Merve Kara, Webrazzi / August 5, 2014

The Refugee App Store

For many Syrians in Turkey, adjusting to a living in a new country as a refugee is a challenge. Navigating residency regulations, finding housing and jobs, all in a foreign language is chaotic and difficult. Web designer Mojahed Akil arrived in Turkey in 2011 after being detained by Syrian regime forces, and saw an opportunity to help fellow Syrians create their new lives. The app he created provides refugees with news about which border crossings are open, which areas are safe, and much-needed guidance to a confusing and disorienting process.


Mojahed Akil

Mojahed Akil

Gherbtna, is an Arabic word that combines several meanings: exile, loneliness, and the feeling of being foreign. It’s a concept not at all unfamiliar to the millions of people who have been displaced because of the conflict in Syria. Syrians have had to leave their homes, jobs and families, move to foreign countries and try to adapt to new lives there. It’s not easy. Luckily, a developer is using application design to make the transition to refugee a little bit easier with the launch of Gherbtna. 

Mojahed Akil’s newly-launched app is dedicated to Syrians who are working to build a new life mainly in Turkey. The app updates users on nearby available job positions, news (usually on recent Turkish regulations regarding residence permits), and also about registration requirements for Syrian students at Turkish universities. “People arrive here without knowing the language. They need to rent an apartment, figure out their residency paperwork, and find a job. We provide the information,” says 25-year-old Akil.

Akil described in detail what inspired him and what he hopes to achieve with the app in an interview with Webrazzi:

How long have you been in Turkey? What were you doing in Syria before coming to Turkey?

I moved to Turkey on 25 September 2013. I was studying informatics engineering at a private university in my home country. I am also interested in computer programming and software developing since my early school days.

I started my own programming office in Syria which gave me the opportunity to enhance my knowledge on the subject while studying. I also got a unique chance to work for a private technology company specialized in web designing and developing in Gaziantep. Hence as a web developer that is very engaging. Moreover, I learned the Turkish language.

What do you aim to do with Gherbtna? How do you help refugees? What are the main functions of the app?

When I first came here to Turkey as a refugee, I knew nothing about Turkish language nor the country. I was frightened from the situation in Syria, my home country. I lived and witnessed all the suffering that Syrian refugees face when they arrive here seeking protection. Escaping from the oppressive rule in their countries, these people are venture away from their houses leaving everything behind and seeking a better life for their families.

From my own experience I learned that knowledge is power and the best way to help these victims, the best thing to support these refugees is to educate yourself, get facts and work hard. I started to think about how I can reach these people directly and easily. This is how the idea of Gherbtna was born. I aimed to help refugees by providing useful information about the host countries and I learned app development.

The app has different sections like jobs offers, registration requirements for Syrian students to attend universities, regulation regarding residence permits and information about settlements like which areas are safe and which are being shelled… Anything that is useful for Syrian refugees.

How long did it take for you to develop the app and publish it? Did you get any help?

I launched Gherbtna app on January 1st ,2014 as a full package app, coming with website and an online radio station. This is a separate project published on March 2014. We have a team consisting of web developers and data entry personnel and a radio announcer.

Do you have any plans to make money from the app?

My plan for now is to find a funder to support us and invest in the project. We are struggling to find a funder in order to sustain the project and keep improving it. We want to turn Gherbtna a platform reaching refugees all around the world.

Which Syrian refugees do you target? How do Syrian refugees in refugee camps access Gherbtna, do they have smart phones or internet connection?

We can reach refugees in the camps as refugees agency (UNHRC) provides internet access to most of  the refugee camps. We aspire to reach all the people who need us.