Mobile phones 'as critical as food, shelter' to refugees

Mobile phones 'as critical as food, shelter' to refugees
2 min read
16 September, 2016
Smart phones and an internet connection can be a 'lifeline' for refugees, says the UN, which is calling for mobile networks to invest in better infrastructure.
'Connectivity can help broaden the opportunities for refugees to improve their own lives' [Getty]

Food, water and shelter are the most pressing priorities for refugees.

And now a mobile phone and internet connection are considered just as critical to the safety and security of the displaced millions, a UN report has found.

"In the world we live in today, internet connectivity and smart phones can become a lifeline for refugees," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

"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," he added.

The findings, based on research carried out in 44 countries on four continents, come at a time when wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since UNHCR began keeping records.

At the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were displaced worldwide, of whom 21.3 million are refugees.

Getting online would help them give and receive vital information, reach separated family members, gain access to essential services, and connect to the communities around them.

While affordability is often a barrier to connectivity, refugees living in urban areas tend to have similar access to mobile networks as other urban populations, the report said.

But for refugees in rural locations the picture is different, with only one in six living in areas with 3G access, and one in five having no mobile coverage at all.

In order to meet this pressing need, the study recommends investing in increasing the availability of mobile networks, improving affordability, and providing access to training, information and services.

The report also outlines ways to ensure refugees can get connected, such as encouraging mobile networks to improve infrastructure and create environments for digital services to be delivered.

Read also: The Refugee Crisis in Europe: One year on