Executive Summary: A Case for Development of Internet Connectivity for Refugee and IDPs in Informal Refugee Camp Environments

Introduction

The analysis for The Case for Connectivity in Non Formal Refugee Camp Environments discusses the influence (both positive and negative) of Internet connectivity on the lives and well being of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). The scope of the project is limited to studying Syrian refugees within Syria, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon in non-refugee camp (informal and urban refugee) environments. This report builds the case for supporting and expanding the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the informal camp environments and explains how refugees can benefit from it in their daily lives while promoting a vibrant and resilient community.

Data from July 2015 indicates that the Syrian crisis has displaced more than 12 million Syrians, with more than 4.2 million having fled to surrounding countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. Five years after the beginning of the crisis in 2011, it was found that 60% of displaced Syrians are living below poverty as illustrated in Figure 1.

Fig. 1

Figure 1: Percentages of Syrian refugees and IDPs living below the poverty line

As of July 2015, Syria has gone from a self‐sufficient country before 2011 to a country that lacks basic needs. Half of the 3 million Syrian children (of school-age population) that constitute 25% of total number of internally displaced and refugees do not attend school on regular basis or receive formal education. The majority of them are refugee children in neighboring countries. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the decline in the education of Syrian children is the fastest in the history of the Middle East. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Syrian 2015 Strategic Response Plan along with several studies indicate that food, water and safety (including gender‐based violence and child abuse) are the highest priority for refugees and displaced groups as described in Figure 2. This priority list extends to education, livelihood, shelter, health, non‐food items and other.

At a time when conflict has risen to an all-time high with devastating consequences, it is important that initiatives leveraging technology are undertaken to benefit the refugees. Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) can play a critical role in responding to conflicts and disasters, and setting the foundation for improving societies from the ground up. For example, Internet connectivity can aid refugees in solving pressing problems, such as the lack of education opportunities, improving health services and assisting aid operations with ongoing management and development of the camp services through online mapping.

Fig. 2

Figure 2: Prioritization of the needs of Syrian Refugees

In order to produce reliable data and recommendations with optimal efficacy in its collection, analysis and interpretation, a systematic four-stage approach was applied towards this case for connectivity. The four stages are: gathering information; performing benefit analysis; proposing recommendations and leveraging new technologies; and presenting a final conclusion. The information gathering stage comprised of taking an in-depth look into cultural environments, demographics, living conditions, needs, security and accessibility to connectivity. A survey was designed targeting the Syrian refugees to gather real user data and scrutinize their needs and priorities to reconfirm the secondary data. Upon executing extensive research to gather relevant information and performing benefit analysis, it was concluded that the positive impact of technology can help alleviate humanitarian challenges like the refugee crisis in Syria and elsewhere.

Connectivity enabling technologies have developed into a force of positive change, particularly in times of crises where such technologies are being used as a means to improve everyday life, provide life-saving services, and serve as an enabler of empowerment for individuals that are economically or socially marginalized. As these technologies grow, their vast potential to be implemented for humanitarian purposes grows along with it. Now more than ever, ICTs can assist those in dire circumstances, such as refugees or internally displaced persons (IDP), by facilitating their access to the information and services most essential to their survival and wellbeing. There is an unprecedented opportunity for innovative and socially responsible organizations such as NetHope to utilize this technology to improve conditions within their areas of operation.

Recommendations and Justification

The analysis for The Case for Connectivity in Non Formal Refugee Camp Environments by Group 5 has led to the following recommendations describing the benefits that connectivity has to offer.

  1. Implementation of Internet-based technology for improving education

Education is essential to the lives of refugees since it is vital for their personal and professional development. Internet connectivity can provide distance learning and learn-as-you-go solutions using virtual (informal) learning environments and platforms as an alternative to the failing conventional schooling systems. E-learning should be fostered as it provides the opportunity for students between 5 – 17 years old to continue their education, and access E-services such as funding opportunities and scholarships.

These solutions provide students with a playful, dynamic and engaging and spontaneous experience that they have never been exposed to. Internet can help refugees to reach out to the world, share personal stories and break their isolation.

Suggestions for Implementation of new technologies:

  • Raspberry Pi2: This $25, credit card sized computer allows children as young as five to learn how to safely navigate a user-friendly computing system It needs to be connected to a screen, keyboard and mouse that are not readily available in poor regions.
  • Laptop and Tablet Based Learning: It is an excellent educational tool, particularly where class sizes are large and teaching materials are scarce. For example, One Laptop per Child (OLPC) and XOTablet offers a low-cost, connected laptop for children between ages 5 to 12.
  • Ideas Box Technology: It consists of tablets, laptops, e-readers, e-books, printed books, digital learning content from organizations such as Wikipedia and Khan Academy, a television screen, built-in projector, films, HD cameras, a stage for theatre productions, and a GPS device. Each box unfolds to create a customized library and media center, with Internet access and its own power source. Being easily transportable, sturdy, and simple to set up, the Ideas Box empowers communities to construct an informed society and paves the way for a self-reliant future.

All these technologies offer an excellent educational tool that will encourage students to connect and exchange knowledge with other school children and professionals from around the world. However, the Internet illiteracy rate among refugees is high and there is a need to first train them to improve their computer and Internet skills for an easy, convenient, and continuous access to E-services.

  1. Implementation of Internet-based technology for Employment Opportunities

Promotion of online job boards and websites to search for jobs will link the refugees to more employment opportunities for their career development. An initiative creating a business-oriented social networking service specifically for the refugee would benefit and meet their job employment needs.

  1. Implementation of Internet-based technology for Health benefits

Internet connectivity and ICTs can be used during times of difficulty to organize and provide medical care for people in need. For example, internet can assist with distribution of medical supplies; offer remote medical consultations from doctors worldwide; medical record keeping such as birth certificates and health records through cloud computing; and also help in providing statistical data on patients for further facilitation on the most prevalent illnesses.   

  1. Implementation of Internet-based technology in Aid Operations

Internet connectivity for cooperation and coordination among NGO and aid organizations can lead to an easily streamlined work among NGOs for a better, faster and more efficient decision making and distribution of aid or services.  Using Internet, NGOs stay in touch with refugees, provide day-to-day services, and get feedback data for further improvement.

For example, Open Data Kit (ODK) is a free and open-source app developed by UNHCR Innovation. It allows aid workers to report back to the offices while working on their cases by collecting, aggregating and contributing to the amount and quality of information available to aid organizations. Also, for a more controlled aid operation, a universal refugee database can help service the refugees better and help prevent its misuse.

  1. Implementation of Internet-based technology for Safety

The use of Ideas Box technology not only guarantees effective use of Internet but also guarantees safety of the refugees by eliminating the misuse of internet from activities that promote prostitution, under-age marriages, pedophilia, human trafficking or smuggling, organ trade, and radicalization of men/women for terrorist groups.

Building common Internet cafes can also minimize the misuse of the Internet for illegal activities as mentioned earlier. Refugees can access Internet using authorized Internet login IDs and passwords assigned for each member and have a usage time limit in the Internet café.

  1. Implementation of Internet-based technology for social networking of refugees

Promotion of social media networks helps refugees to re-connect and reunite with family members and friends in home countries and around the world. Internet provides entertainment, serves as a distraction from the reality they live in, enhancing the confidence and self-esteem of refugees by improving their social interaction, breaking their monotony, and reducing their isolation. All these factors may improve the emotional well being of refugees and strengthen their faith and trust in a better future.

  1. Other factors when considering connectivity solutions

Other factors are required to be taken into account when considering the implementation of connectivity solutions. Some of the considerations are:

  • With the Syrian crisis in its fifth year, the number of Syrians (internally displaced and refugees) striving for basic human needs is on the rise. This number was estimated in July 2015 by the UNHCR and the European Commission to be 12 million, 52% of total Syrian population in 2011.
  • Funding is the biggest issue that holds back the UN Security Council, UN affiliated organizations and NGOs from fulfilling their commitments toward a growing number of refugees worldwide and particularly in Syria. Statistics indicate that in the case of Syrian IDPs and refugees (in neighboring countries) the funding gap between required and received is 81%.
  • The basic needs of Syrian internally displaced and refugee groups were found to be similar. Reports and surveys indicate that food, clean water and safety come on the top of the priorities followed by education, livelihood, shelter, health services and others.

Conclusion

Internet connectivity was not identified by these internally displaced and refugee groups as one of their priorities. However, this report identified Internet connectivity as the backbone that links all the previously mentioned needs together. In conclusion, Internet connectivity has many benefits and has the potential if used properly to improve the life and the well being of refugees and displaced groups. However, building reliable Internet infrastructure is a win-win case for refugees and supporting NGOs. It is a one-time capital investment (there are always recurring costs) with long-time benefits.

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