Refugees view access to a mobile phone and internet as being critical to their safety and security and essential for keeping in touch with loved ones. Many refugees regard a connected device as being as vital to them as food, water or shelter, according to a new report from UNHCR– the UN Refugee Agency- and Accenture.
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. It shows that for many refugees a connected device is a lifeline and a critical tool for self-empowerment.
Unsurprisingly, affordability is often a barrier to connectivity. Refugees living in urban areas tend to have similar access to mobile networks as other urban populations, but for refugees in rural locations the picture is very different, with only one in six refugees located in areas with 3G access, and one in five rural refugees having no mobile coverage at all – significantly lower than for the population at large. This effectively prevents many refugees from participating in the cultural, educational, and economic activity that connectivity affords.
“In the world we live in today, internet connectivity and smart phones 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, 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.”
The report recommends additional investments in three main areas, which together form the basis of a new UNHCR Global Strategy for Connectivity for Refugees. These include increasing the availability of mobile networks, improving affordability, and providing access to training, digital content and services. The report also identifies a number of strategic interventions to help ensure connectivity, ranging from partnering with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and other technology/ communications companies to improve infrastructure, making targeted investments in infrastructure, and enabling an environment and system for digital service delivery
“Especially critical to this effort will be the engagement of the private sector, especially technology companies and mobile network operators. Accenture is particularly optimistic about the potential for UNHCR and the humanitarian community to work together with the private sector to improve the well-being and humanitarian support of displaced people through enhanced connectivity,” said Dan London, group chief executive of Accenture’s Health & Public Service business.
Drawing on the experience of Accenture Development Partnership’s business model, the report also identifies ways to engage the private sector to solve the connectivity challenge, leveraging creative partnerships and smart investments. ADP harnesses the global capabilities and experience of Accenture to positively impact the lives of people in the developing world.
“Private-sector partnerships are essential to scale the connectivity interventions globally,” said Roger Ford, Accenture Development Partnership managing director. “Companies and corporations bring global reach, innovative business models, experience in the communications and telecommunications industries, relationships with government regulators and financial and human resources, all of which will be instrumental to connecting the world’s refugee population.”
Research findings are based on an assessment of refugee connectivity trends and usage and included surveys of and interviews with UNHCR staff and refugees, as well as geospatial mapping of global network coverage. The findings are informed by direct feedback from 238 refugees through 20 focus groups in 10 countries; survey responses from 95 UNHCR offices in 44 countries and more than 3 million refugees; in-person interviews with UNHCR staff in five countries; analysis of proprietary mobile network coverage data; and refugee demographic data from UNHCR and public sources.