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Thousands of refugees embark on a precarious voyage by sea in a bid to reach Europe through Greece in a bid to seek asylum. However, their journey is adversely affected by worn out boats and testing conditions which even end up in the loss of precious lives. Drones for Refugees is an initiative that focuses on supporting refugees travelling to the Greek island of Lesbos from Turkey by keeping an eye along the sea route in the Mediterranean which is trafficked by travelers round the clock.

Mehdi Salehi and Kristen Kersh founded Drones for Refugees. The two gentlemen teach drones classes at Parsons New School for Design. Kersh says that the initiative was inspired by the hundreds of thousands of refugees moving to Europe on rubber boats that capsize on the way more often than not. She adds that the idea struck and made impact in their minds as they were already working with drones and thought that the whole concept of using drones to save lives could be revolutionary. According the figures portrayed at the initiative’s website, 10 casualties are reported of people trying to cross the Mediterranean to make way into Italy, Greece and Turkey since 2014.

The project is still in the process of development and is expected to be kicked off in 2017. At present, the drones operated by Kersh and Salehi send data and video footage to Greek search and rescue teams through an app and website. The monitoring station has been engineered with an aim to ensure autonomy and is a portable unit that harnesses solar energy to power computers, monitors, drone batteries, encoders, receivers and transmitters.

The system also employs wireless internet to transmit information along with solar cells and batteries to charge the entire apparatus. The aim is to keep an eye at the migrants’ voyage and to enhance response time for search and rescue crews so that precious lives can be saved.
Salehi, himself left Afghanistan and sought political asylum later on in Greece, says that the search and rescue teams are provided with GPS coordinates, real time video footage and also the number of men, women and children on the boat so that the first responders are aware of what is waiting for them before they even get there.

Kersh and Salehi are currently based in New York but they undertake frequent trips to Greece to test out their machines.
One of the biggest challenges for the initiative is to ensure that the location of refugees is not retrieved by people with mala fide intent. Kersh explains that they reached out to the refugees and asylum seekers and asked them their point of view when they saw drones approaching them. She adds that they got plenty of valuable information as most of the refugees responded that they had apprehension that they were being attacked by government agencies.

But Salehi believes that the overwhelming goal of the entire initiative is to save lives as in this day and age of technology, people are still trying to cross the Mediterranean in plastic boats and they die on the way. This is all incomprehensible, he says.

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