How NYC tech is taking on the refugee crisis with coding

There are over 230,000 Syrian refugees living in Iraq alongside 3.5 million internally displaced Iraqis. They are, on average, expected to spend the next 17 years uprooted and in need of assistance. To put that into perspective, it would be like if everyone in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and Boston were unable to return home until 2034.  

“They have no access to higher education and their employment opportunities are limited,” Alexandra Clare, Founder at Re:Coded said. “We really wanted to start a program that gives people more opportunities than the existing humanitarian aid programs. They tend to be short term and don’t let people become upwardly mobile.” 

Re:Coded teaches technical skills to displaced peoples. In essence, they run a hybrid online and in-person coding school for refugees that has been adapted from The Flatiron School’s Web Development Immersive program. That program has long been a staple for New Yorkers learning to code and boasts a 98 percent job placement rate with an average starting salary above $74,000.

“For refugees, their whole way of life and livelihoods have been disrupted, and they need to learn new skills,” Adam Enbar, cofounder and CEO at The Flatiron School, said. “Technical training seemed to make a lot of sense.”

The courses themselves are taught partially online, with in-person support and group sessions to make sure the lessons are being digested. English language classes are included and software engineers from around the world donate their time to help students with technical problems. Once students graduate, they are connected with job opportunities locally or are able to work as remote employees for companies abroad. 

Of course, getting to graduation at a coding school in New York is no easy feat and the added stresses of life as refugee make it all the more difficult.

“There are so many day-to-day challenges,” Clare said. “People are in very vulnerable situations.”

Re:Coded said they try to give students everything they need to succeed — they provide a laptop, remote internet access, transportation and food. Over 40 percent of students are female, and Re:Coded also provides childcare services.

“There are very limited opportunities available to refugees locally,” Clare said. “Which is why we are teaching skills that transcend location. These skills are useful immediately and they'll continue to be useful even if the person is displaced again.”

While the program is a global project, it has strong NYC ties and is currently being incubated at New York University. The program also receives funding through a grant from the United Nations and Google, with material support from The Flatiron School. 

“Every problem in the world can be solved with education," Enbar said. "And, if you can give people access to education and a living wage, you're empowering them to be successful. It's something I’m excited to be even the tiniest part of.”

Re:Coded is currently finishing a pilot program in Erbil, Iraq, where 30 students will graduate in April. After that, they plan on forming a nonprofit and expanding the program to other locations around the world. 

“Turkey is our next step,” Clare said. “There are over a half a million refugees living in Istanbul.”