Project Details

Co-working space with people setting up laptops and tech equipment.

Refugees on Rails

Teaching refugees to code on recycled laptops

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @refugeesonrails

  • Community Engagement
  • Education

Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis since the 1940s, and the number of people seeking asylum has climbed steadily in recent years. A common misconception is that refugees are uneducated and a strain on the countries they flee to, yet many of the 600,000 refugees who have arrived in Germany left their own businesses, and good jobs behind. 

Refugees on Rails is a coding school in Berlin which provides refugees with recycled laptops and teaches them to code from scratch, or helps them expand on existing coding skills. Old laptops are donated to the school, which is run entirely by volunteers. 

The idea came about when Weston Hankins complained to his friend Anne Kjaer Riechert about his difficulty in finding workers who knew how to code. Anne had recently met an Iraqi refugee in Berlin who was a trained software developer, but had no laptop to work on. Anne and Weston teamed up with Ahmet Emre to found the nonprofit Refugees on Rails, and, with the help of Syrian refugee Haj Ali Muhammed, they have built an educational program that is tailored to asylum seekers. 

The project is particularly aimed at people with an interest in the technology sector, whose asylum applications are pending and who are barred from paid work until official asylum is granted. Instead of being wasted, the waiting time is put to good use. 

Berliners have given over 160 laptops for students to the school, 200 people have volunteered to help, and tech giants Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom and coworking venues in Berlin have donated office space. 

Refugees on Rails only launched in 2015, and it has already had interest from tech start-ups seeking coders.

Image courtesy of Refugees on Rails.

Last updated: 25th of September, 2015

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