Refugees and Connectivity

GSMA Disaster Response

About this portal:

The current refugee crisis is the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenge. Over 60 million people around the world are displaced, over 21 million of them refugees – the highest number in a generation. War, persecution and crises are currently displacing over 33,000 people per day – around half of them children. Almost all of them face years of displacement. These numbers are projected to increase in coming years, making this both a growing and long-term problem that will not be resolved for many years to come.

This refugee crisis is, however, different from those that preceded it: this is the first mass displacement of the digital age. From refugees arriving in Europe and asking for WiFi to the growing use of digital money as a way of distributing cash assistance, mobile and digital technology are front and centre stage both of this crisis and of the response. Refugees prize their phones beyond almost any other possession, asking for connectivity as a form of basic assistance on a par with water, food and shelter, while humanitarians are starting to explore new ways of delivering help. These phenomena are creating a demand for mobile network operators to step into new roles: as essential partners in response, providers of services for populations on the move, and humanitarian responders in their own right. Mobile phones are increasingly a central tool in helping refugees find safety, and in the difficult task of navigating their new homes.

The industry is rising to the challenge. This portal draws together examples of refugee focused initiatives utilising mobile technology which are being undertaken by mobile network operators, non-governmental organisations and civil society groups By beginning the work of capturing the range of existing initiatives and showcasing positive impact that the mobile industry can have on refugees, and to begin to draw together the wide range of ongoing initiatives into a common space, creating a starting point for this industry-wide conversation and a resource for those seeking to implement similar initiatives.

About the GSMA Disaster Response programme:

The GSMA Disaster Response programme, established in 2012, supports MNOs in preparing for and responding to both natural disaster and complex emergencies.  Recognising the importance of communication and access to information for affected people, many of our members have actively supported their subscribers in times of need. The Humanitarian Connectivity Charter launched in 2015 acts as a banner under which these industry activities can be collectively promoted.

The GSMA Disaster Response Programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development.

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