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News Italian Students Create Phone Charging Station to Help Migrants Cross Balkans

Tommi Siviero Castelmarte BIRN April 26, 202417:30

School students in Verona working with an NGO have created a new phone-charging station model to support migrants and refugees cross the Balkans on their way to the EU.

Courtesy of The Balkan Insight [web:]

di Emanuele G. - lunedì 20 maggio 2024 - 513 letture

It is water resistant, transportable and can charge up to 24 phones per day. It’s the BeeHive, a new phone-charging station created by the Italian NGO One Bridge To-, OBT-, and improved by the collective work of 25 high school students from Verona and the organisation FABlab.

The generator will make it easier for migrants in the Balkans to recharge their phones on their way to the European Union.

“The project was born during Covid, in late 2020,” OBT-’s Pietro Albi, who developed the first prototype, told BIRN. “The first Beehives were brought to Serbia in March 2021, to Sid, Subotica and Belgrade, and distributed to local organisations and NGOs working on the fields”.

The 25 students participated voluntarily in off-school hours, willingly deciding to spend their afternoons improving the BeeHive. After a theoretical workshop about the “Balkan Route” taken by migrants to Europe, the lack of legal pathways to Europe and the reality of migration, they focused on technical aspects like 3D printing, laser cutting and assembling the electrical parts.

The first BeeHive model used a bike engine to recharge phones and weighed around 20kg. The new one, created in collaboration with the students, weighs only around 3kg and uses lithium batteries, which are lighter and more efficient.

The name BeeHive refers to the shape of the generator, which recalls artificial beehives, but also hints at the idea of a safe space – a literal charging station where migrants can recharge their phones while taking a rest from the challenges and violence of taking the Balkan Route.

“The project also allows us to help students realise that what they hear regarding migrants and refugees and the reality of things are really different,” OBT-’s Serena Zuanazzi told BIRN.

“In Europe people often claim that the fact that migrants have a phone is a clear sign that they’re not really refugees in need. The reality instead is that phones are crucial for people on the move, as they need them to communicate with the families back home, with other people that are travelling with them, but also to orientate and keep on travelling.

“They are [also] used more and more to document the violence that people on the move experience, and become a tool to denounce human rights abuses,” she said.

Currently there are five old models of the BeeHive in Serbia, one of the new ones in Bosnia and two in Trieste, the arrival point for migrants taking the Balkan Route, in Italy. New ones will be distributed shortly in Greece, France and other locations in Italy.

“We already have plans to update the current model with a WiFi hotspot that will allow people to connect to the internet even from remote locations and other improvements. If NGOs and organisations working on the ground can use the BeeHive to support people on the move, they can reach out to us, so we can plan the production and the delivery,” Albi concluded.

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