These solar phone chargers are helping refugees stay connected in Greece

How 10:10’s old solar panels are helping refugees in Greece keep in touch with loved ones and stay connected to the world.

Access to phones and data have saved countless lives in the Mediterranean. On the dangerous crossing, people use their phones to navigate and call for help. Once they’ve arrived, they can contact loved ones left behind and check other family members have arrived safely. They can access health information and news, and plan their journeys. It’s just one example of how brilliant electricity is.

But many refugee camps in Europe don’t have access to reliable power supply. So 10:10 has teamed up with refugee charity Respond to lend a hand. We had some spare solar panels, so sent them over to be transformed into solar-powered phone charging points at Vasilika refugee camp in Thessaloniki, northern Greece.

The simple gadget allows people in the camps to plug their phones in and be charged up by the sunshine. The solar power is reliable, safe, sustainable for the people living there. With their phones charged they are able to speak to their families and navigate their new starts in Europe.

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These solar panels are, in a small way, helping to tackle climate change. But they are part of a much bigger picture. Climate change is part of the story of the unrest in Syria that forced so many to flee their homes to Europe. The severe drought just before the start of the conflict undoubtedly played a role, along with other terrible factors, in sending Syria into war. It’s a complex issue, if you want to read more about it, we recommend this great explainer

Around the world, issues like drought and water shortage are making life unspeakably hard. You’ve probably read about the crisis in East Africa at the moment. Drought has combined with conflict to leave many across South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia in urgent need of food, water and medical treatment. As climate change makes problems like these even worse, it’s understandable that more and more people will move, and we’ll see big shifts in migration.

Solar plays a big part in helping us act on climate change before things get even worse. It’s not just small panels like these helping people phone home, it’s about larger deployment around the world to help us power more and more of our lives on clean energy and finally kick that fossil fuel habit, before it kills us.

These solar chargers are work reliably off-grid, especially in their sunny locations, and provide free power for refugees to use. In a small way, solar is helping to make their lives a little bit easier. But we all need something a lot bigger, and we need our governments to support us in shifting to clean energy.

The story of these particular panels goes back a little further. Back at the end of 2015, when a lot of us were fighting cuts to solar, those panels were part of a guerrilla installation on George Osborne’s roof. He was chancellor back then, furiously axing support for solar. Some activists wondered if maybe he didn’t like solar power because he hadn’t tried it.

He didn’t want them, and we have been looking for a good use for them ever since. Improving the welfare of refugees by helping them recharge their phones seemed like an excellent home.

Update

At short notice, the refugee camp where we put the solar charger was closed unexpectedly. The charger is now in a free shop for refugees and Greeks who may be struggling.  


Thanks so much to Alex Randall from Climate Migration for all the help writing this! And of course Josie Long.

Photos: Joe WyandRespond