A new report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows that many refugees globally view access to a mobile phone and the internet as being as critical to their safety and security as food, water, and shelter.
The report, “Connected Refugees: How the Internet and Mobile Connectivity Can Improve Refugee Well-being and Transform Humanitarian Action,” is based on research undertaken in 44 countries on four continents.
The report shows that while affordability and technical training are often barriers to connectivity, refugees living in urban areas tend to have similar access to mobile networks as other urban populations. However, refugees in rural locations have limited access with only one in six located in areas with 3G access, and one in five having no mobile coverage at all – significantly lower than for the population at large.
The study suggests increasing the availability of mobile networks, improving affordability, and providing access to training, digital content, and services. At the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were displaced worldwide, of whom 21.3 million were refugees.
“In the world we live in today, internet connectivity and smartphones can become a lifeline for refugees, providing an essential means for them to give and receive vital information, communicate with separated family members, gain access to essential services, and reconnect to the local, national and global communities around them,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Most importantly, connectivity can help broaden the opportunities for refugees to improve their own lives and pursue a vision of a future that would otherwise be denied to them.”