Mobile To Connect Refugees To Vital Services

GSMA, UNHCR, MTN and Ericsson to bring mobile services to refugee camps

The GSMA, the global trade association for mobile operators, is to lead a programme to connect refugee camps in northern Uganda to mobile networks to support family reunification, education, healthcare, economic activity and other needs.

Through its Development Fund, the GSMA, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), will work with mobile operators and equipment suppliers to use the cost-effectiveness of GSM mobile networks and devices to provide refugees with affordable and sustainable access to a wide range of services from voice calls to Internet access to electronic learning programmes.

“Information is a basic human need and it is vital that we do everything we can to help refugees fulfil that need,” said Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA, announcing the programme at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. “Mobile networks are the only economically viable way to connect refugee camps to the outside world and provide their occupants with the means to communicate with their relatives, access health information, run a business and, above all, educate their children.”

Early in 2008, refugees living in camps in northern Uganda will have access to mobile connections through a pilot project being set up by the GSMA Development Fund with local operator MTN Uganda and mobile equipment supplier Ericsson. The pilot will provide refugees with shared access to voice and data services similar to those already deployed by the GSMA and local operators in rural communities elsewhere in Uganda, in Algeria, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and South Africa. Under this innovative approach, which is designed to be self-sustaining, one of the villagers has the opportunity to establish a small business providing use of mobile phones, or computer terminals with mobile Internet access, to their community.

Assuming the pilot is successful, the GSMA and its partners will replicate the concept in refugee camps in other parts of the world. As well as meeting the immediate needs of refugees to connect with relatives and find out information, the programme is designed to be a key element of the UNHCR’s ninemillion initiative, which aims to provide nine million refugees with primary and secondary education, vocational training, life-skills training, access to computer technologies and recreational and sports programmes by 2010.

“I commend the work of the GSMA Development Fund to bring much needed mobile communications to refugee settlements,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres. “The UNHCR’s primary purpose is to protect the rights and well-being of refugees, and connectivity not only allows refugees to connect with families and communities at home, but it also enables entrepreneurialism, drives education and provides opportunity and hope for the future.”

“Our commitment to the Refugee Connectivity pilot is in line with our vision to be the prime driver in an all-communicating world,” said Carl-Henric Svanberg, President and CEO of Ericsson. “It will allow us to apply our core technology to connect some of those in greatest need, and we hope that mobile connectivity will also stimulate local business development in the area.”

“MTN is delighted to support this pioneering initiative that highlights how GSM communications can be used to improve the quality of life for some of the most marginalized communities within the African continent,” said Noel Meier, CEO of MTN Uganda.

The roles of the partners:
The GSMA Development Fund
 will lead the development and delivery of the pilot, including the development of the feasibility study and business case to ensure the solution is self-sustainable.

UNHCR will provide support and assist with access to refugee settlements in northern Uganda. The UNHCR will also facilitate the relationships and introductions to specific implementation partners required to deliver a sustainable and scalable pilot in Uganda.

Ericsson has committed to support the pilot by extending and upgrading the existing network to enable efficient voice and data capabilities. This will include the required technical solution, including alternative power sources as appropriate, as well as the development of possible mobile applications and the provision of phones, in cooperation with Sony Ericsson.

MTN Uganda has committed to supporting the pilot with the expansion of the GSM network in order to provide coverage for “Shared Access to Voice” and “Shared Access to Data” services.

About the GSMA and the Development Fund:
The GSMA (The GSM Association) is the global trade association representing more than 700 GSM mobile phone operators across 218 countries and territories of the world. In addition, more than 200 manufacturers and suppliers support the Association’s initiatives as key partners.

The GSMA’s Development Fund was set up in October 2005 to provide consulting support to innovative pilot projects that use mobile technology to boost social, economic and environmental welfare in developing countries. Working together with mobile operators, the Fund supports easily replicable and sustainable projects that have the potential to be widely deployed.

For more information:

For more information please visit the Development Fund website.

Mark Smith or David Pringle
Email: [email protected]