SEATTLE — When Syrian refugees make their way toward safety, everywhere they go they need water, food, shelter and secure wifi for their cellphones. Their phones help keep them connected to their loved ones and provide them access to relief agencies and immigration authorities along with their migration route.
Making sure they can stay connected is a core mission of NetHope, a nonprofit providing information communications technology in the Syrian refugee crisis with the support of companies like Cisco, Microsoft and Google.
The war in Syria has displaced 11 million of its people and forced 7.5 million from their homes. Four million have fled the country so far, mostly women and children. These refugees need communications to locate help, connect with loved ones and keep current with the news. Many have cell phones — 20 percent to 30 percent of all refugee families. They could use their cellphones to keep in touch if the needed information communications technology infrastructure was in place. But largely it is not.
Putting that infrastructure in place has become one of the jobs of NetHope, founded in 2001 through a collaboration between Cisco and Save the Children. NetHope’s mission is “to act as a catalyst for collaboration, bringing together the knowledge and power of the leading humanitarian organizations so that the best information communication technology and practices can be used to serve people in the developing world.”
NetHope has been acting on that mission by providing information communications technology in the Syrian refugee crisis. After analyzing the situation, NetHope concluded that refugees have four ICT-related needs:
- Cell phone connections and charging stations along migration routes and in camps
- A central information portal for refugees
- E-learning for refugee children
NetHope has been meeting those needs, first by implementing connectivity in refugee camps in Jordan. The nonprofit is also providing connectivity and recharging kits to NGOs that help refugees on the migration routes from the Middle East to Germany.
NetHope is being helped in these efforts by its corporate supporters, including Cisco. For example, Cisco sent tactical operations engineers and disaster response team volunteers to serve on 10 two-week deployments with NetHope. During these deployments, volunteers installed Meraki-based wifi networks at 75 sites in Greece and Slovenia. They also provided tech support and equipment for sites in Serbia.
So far, these installations have connected 600,000 unique devices, enabled refugees to call two million friends and family members and blocked 2,000 cyber threats per day using Cisco’s cloud security software. NetHope is also supporting the development of an information portal for refugees. The portal will provide refugees with up-to-date information on safe routes, places offering aid along the routes, their acceptance status in neighboring countries and conditions in their home countries.
NetHope is also working to provide e-learning to refugee children. Some 700,000 Syrian refugee children – largely in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — cannot go to school because the national school systems cannot handle the extra student load. E-learning is one solution to that problem.
The case of information communications technology In the Syrian refugee crisis illustrates what one U.N. official characterizes as the necessity for “robust networks” of communication in refugee work today. Patrick Gordon from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, “None of this will work unless people – both the aid workers and the beneficiaries – have access to communications. Where communications was a ‘nice to have’ at one point, now it is a ‘need to have.’”
– Robert Cornet