Google’s new website explains Syrian refugee crisis with 360 degree photos, satellite imagery, video & more

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The charitable arm of Google and the UN have teamed up on a new website aimed at helping people better understand the Syrian refugee crisis through the combination of data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) along with satellite imagery, 360 degree photos and stills, videos, stories from refugees, and more. The new site, called “Searching for Syria,” presents this information to visitors in an accessible way – by providing simple but visually immersive answers to questions like “What is happening in Syria?” and even, “what is a refugee?”

Google explained that it’s been able to gauge how much worldwide interest there is on the web from people using its search engine for answers to basic questions about the refugee situation in Syria. “What is happening in Syria?” was among the top trending searches in Germany, France and the U.K. last year, for example, and over tens of millions in 2016 searched for information on the Syria.

The company, including its Google.org arm, partnered with the UNHCR to combine the organization’s annual Global Trends report – which contains facts and figures about refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants and others – with Google’s Search trend data. The idea is to offer web searchers better answers to their ongoing questions, but one that taps into more visual imagery to help paint a picture of the human side of the crisis, and the scale of the situation in the country of Syria.

The site begins with a brief introduction, then takes you pages of questions about Syria, like “What was Syria like before the war?,” “What is going on in Syria?” “Where are Syrian refugees going?” and others.

Questions are answered with short text blurbs relying factual answers and statistics, which are combined with full-screen photos, some of which can be turned 360 degrees for a more immersive viewing of a given place or scene.

For example, one section of the website lets you visit half a dozen UNESCO world heritage sites in 360 degrees, including the ancient cities of Aleppo, Bosra, and Damascus, the ancient villages of Northern Syria, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din and the site of Palmyra. After panning through the beautiful imagery, you scroll down to the next slide and learn that the war in Syria has damaged or destroyed them all.

Visualization in the form of charts and graphs are also sometimes present, along with personal stories from refugees and videos from YouTube.

There are only five questions on the site, but scrolling through all their components takes some time. In reading through and watching the material, visitors are meant to understand the true human toll the war has taken on Syrian lives.

The site also encourages visitors to learn how they can help – by signing the UNHCR’s petition to pledge your support that you stand #WithRefugees, making a donation, or just sharing the website to raise awareness.

Though largely an educational experience, there’s of course a political undertone to Google’s investment in this resource.

The U.S. and some other countries have pushed back against allowing Syrian refugees to cross their borders. This includes Trump’s hardline stance on Syria in general in which the president has proposed cuts to foreign aid, including the U.N. and agencies helping refugees. He has also tried to stop Syrian refugees from entering the country twice – moves that were blocked by courts. Meanwhile, on Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. – seemingly ignoring Trump’s proposed budget – has pledged increased support from the U.S. for the refugees.

This is not Google.org’s first time addressing the crisis – it has already invested more than $20 million in grants supporting solutions to provide over 800,000 refugees with emergency support and access to critical information and education, the company says.

The new site is available here.