How Technology Improves Refugee Aid


SEATTLE — Nonprofits, charities and international institutions help refugees through donations. In refugee camps, that money is transformed into healthcare, new shelters and school supplies. But most of the time, it is difficult to give money directly to the people who live in the camp. Moden technology improves refugee aid by making this process easy and efficient.

Phone technology is bringing positive change to refugee camps. Thanks to donated mobile phones, refugees in Bidi Bidi, the world’s biggest refugee camp, and other refugee settlements around the globe are able to buy food and other essential needs.

To make the electronic transactions possible, NGOs, private companies and international organizations work together. DanChurchAid and Mercy Corps have donated 21,000 basic phones to Bidi Bidi refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has distributed 1,500 smartphones in areas of Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This technology improves refugee aid because refugees have access to mobile phones and receive cash transfers through an application on the phone. Refugees are able to exchange that money at stores located in the camp. With that money, people purchase medicine and food, two essential goods that save lives.

It is expected that this aid will generate more economic activities such as opening small businesses inside the refugee camp. Most people in refugee camps depend on international economic aid and charity donations. Phone technology empowers refugees, giving them an opportunity to be self-sufficient. In addition, thanks to donated mobile phones, refugees are able to store their money, a matter that was harder when cash was distributed in camps.

However, one problem that international organizations have to resolve is Internet access. Most refugee camps do not have Internet antennas, or the antennas cannot cover the camp’s territory, making phone technology useless.

UNHCR has reached agreements with the mobile network operators MTN, Africell and Airtel to provide connectivity to thousands of refugees. Thanks to a new permanent antenna, 500,000 people in Bidi Bidi can access the Internet. In the Imvepi camp, another antenna was installed to help 200,000 refugees.

Mobile phone use in refugee camps is not limited to cash assistance. For instance, they are able to call their families in nearby countries. In addition, refugee representatives can report different issues like protection and goods supplies to UNHCR.

Technology improves refugee aid in refugee settlements around the world. For instance, in Za’atari, Jordan, the world’s second-largest refugee camp, 86 percent of young people own a mobile phone. Refugees use phone technology for translations and maps, which they need when crossing borders. Through these varied uses, mobile technology is transforming the lives of 22 million refugees worldwide.

– Dario Ledesma

Photo: Flickr


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