Mobile connectivity and the refugee crisis

Photo courtesy of Josh Zakary, published on Flickr 

The escalation of the refugee crisis in Europe has highlighted the plight of those fleeing conflict and persecution in Syria and many other countries. At the end of 2014, UNHCR reported that there were 59.5 people globally who had been forcibly displaced. Well into its fifth year, the crisis in Syria has displaced more than 4 million people to neighboring countries, while the mass exodus continues further into Europe. Upholding the rights and dignity of these people, whilst providing useful services, tools and assistance as they make their way is at the forefront of the minds of many humanitarians.

The crisis has also focused attention on the priority needs that those seeking refuge have, and how these have changed in our increasingly digital world. More and more those affected by crisis identify access to mobile communication as equally important to food, water and shelter. Mobile connectivity provides a lifeline to family and friends, access to information on where to seek assistance and access to funds through mobile money. Over the last few weeks, many stories have been shared about refugees using their smartphones or mobile enabled platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps, WhatsApp and Skype to navigate perilous routes to safer destinations, as a repository of photos of loved ones or home left behind, and as an important tool for facilitating reunification, education continuity or as a means to accessing information about registration and their legal rights. Mobile continues to be a key enabler as refugees settle in safer havens.

At present, some of our GSMA members have undertaken initiatives to support people impacted by this crisis in countries neighboring Syria such as Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as increasingly across European receiving nations. Connectivity through the provision of wifi-hotspots, mobile charging banks and community phones have been identified as priority needs based on preliminary assessments from UN agencies and NGOS consulted, yet information on communication needs is still not routinely collected in assessments to provide a more detailed picture. We continue to work with our GSMA members and humanitarian partners to identify how and where these efforts can be coordinated.

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