Standby Task Force (SBTF), digital humanitarianism and the Syrian refugee crisis: Building the information, services and aid database


Public announcement and press conference on refugees in Turkey, [Basmane, Izmir, Turkey] (12.09.2015). Photo: Nicolas Parent.
Public announcement and press conference on refugees in Turkey, [Basmane, Izmir, Turkey] (12.09.2015). Photo: Nicolas Parent.

The problem

In recent weeks, we have seen a media frenzy surrounding the mass inflow of Syrian refugees into Europe. Tensions have been high amongst European leaders, all having their own strategic plan, vision and position on the issue. Germany, the leading country in refugee and asylum claim acceptance, alongside European commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, has asked EU leaders to agree upon a mandatory refugee quota system. Yet, “Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and other eastern European leaders insist that they will not accept (…)” (Harding, 2015) this proposition.

According to Martinez (2015), these are the current figures for European asylum claims:

  • Germany: 98,700
  • Sweden: 64,700
  • France: 6,700
  • United Kingdom: 7,000
  • Denmark: 11,300
  • Hungary 18,800
Crisis and refugee migration patterns, September 2015. Nicolas Parent, 2015.
Crisis and refugee migration patterns, September 2015. Nicolas Parent, 2015.

Where the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan show no signs of winding down, refugees from these countries have led to “(…) the biggest wave of refugees in Europe since World War II” (Collard, 2015). However, entry to European countries has become increasingly difficult in the last few days. Most prominent is Hungary’s construction of a 13 ft. high fence along its border with Serbia (Collard, 2015) and Germany’s recent closure of its border with Austria to all not holding a EU passport or visa (Harding, 2015). It is safe to say that the so-called ‘Balkan Corridor’ is shutting down, leaving refugees in transit limbo with little knowledge of where to find aid, services, information and support.

The solution

Internews, an “(…) international organization whose mission is to empower local media worldwide to give people the news and information they need, the ability to connect and the means to make their voices heard” (Internews, 2015), is working on building a database of services and information throughout the Turkey-Balkans-Germany corridor. It’s objective is to collate data about which and where services are available, along with filling the informational gaps hat are negatively impacting refugees along this route.

Internews has recently reached out to Standby Task Force (SBTF), an organisation of some 1600 digital humanitarians, seeking help to scour the Internet to find answers to the following questions:


  • Who is providing services to refugees along this route?
  • What services are they providing?
  • Where are these services being provided?


  • What information are refugees getting along the route?
  • Where are refugees getting information from?
  • What topics is the information covering?

If you have any answers to the above questions (or have time to do some research via news reports), please enter the data in this table, or send to Information will be entered within the SBTF network. Data must be entered by September 23rd, 2015.

Standby Task Force and digital humanitarianism

For those living far from crisis and disasters, it seems almost impossible to provide help effectively. Yet, in this age of globalised technology and communication, this fable has been dispelled and digital humanitarianism is at our doorstep. Standby Task Force is there to help.

The mission of Standby Task Force is as follows:

“(…) to provide volunteer online digital responses to humanitarian crises, local emergencies, and issues of local or global concern by:

  • Deploying a flexible, trained and prepared network of digital volunteers to assist crisis-affected communities through cooperation with local and international responders, including real-time CrisisMapping support.
  • Maintaining awareness of developing crises, connections with responder organisations and potential deployment partners.
  • Testing and refining crisis data processes and technologies.
  • Supporting and advising local, autonomous crisis mapping groups that may or may not be affiliated with the SBTF.” (Stanby Task Force, undated)

Standby Task Force is one of the few networks for crisis mapping, and has participated in dozens of deployments over the years, including during Lybia’s political crisis (2011), the Colombia floods (2012), Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines (2013), the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2014) and during the Nepal earthquake this year.

Want to join but you aren’t a technology wizard or geo-master? Not a problem. Standby Task Force is unique in its simple interface and well-designed training for newcomers. Find out more or sign up here.

Also, if interested in digital humanitarianism, Patrick Meier’s book Digital Humanitarians: How Bid Data is Changing The Face of Humanitarian Response (2015) is comprehensive. Alternatively, visit his blog.


Collard, R. (2015) ‘Large numbers pour into Hungary daily in the hopes of being allowed to continue their journey north before travel restrictions tighten’, Time, (New York), September 6th; available online at:

Harding, L. (2015) ‘Refugee crisis: EU in crunch talks as queues form at German border’, The Guardian, (London), September 14; available online at:

Internews (2015) ‘What we do’; available online at:

Martinez, M. (2015) ‘Syrian refugees: which countries welcome them, which ones don’t’, CNN, (London), September 10; available online at:

Meier, P. (2015) Digital Humanitarians: How Bid Data is Changing The Face of Humanitarian Response, UK: Taylor and Francis Press.

Stanby Task Force (2015) ‘Our vision’; available online at: