Connecting the disconnected – communication and human migration
As global migration and displacement continues to rise, Armando Samayoa, Télécoms Sans Frontières’ representative for the Americas and the Caribbean, shares how the organisation is supporting those affected
In the past year, connectivity has become increasingly critical. Not only to our economy, but in every facet of our lives – from education to social activities. But for those fleeing conflict or disasters, accessing this connectivity can present a significant challenge.
Growing global migration and displacement has become a phenomenon of the 21st century. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that, by the end of 2019, at least 79.5 million individuals around the world had been forced to flee their homes that year.
This included nearly 26 million refugees, around half of whom were children. Among these staggering statistics, within the same year it was recorded that just two million asylum applications were processed.
For refugees, displaced from their homes, often cut off from family, their technological disconnection makes building the future they dream of much more challenging. One example of where the levels of migration and displacement have exacerbated is Mexico.
n 2017, more than 14,000 people applied for asylum in Mexico, an increase of 66% compared to the previous year. In recent years, the country has introduced new humanitarian visas for victims of violence. The issue, however, is that a large majority of these migrants travel without a mobile phone.
This has resulted in a significant proportion of asylum seekers lacking any access to the necessary information needed to make vital decisions, or even know about these visas and their rights to apply for them.
This lack of information also entails a great level of risk for these displaced people. Many are unaccompanied minors, making up about one in five of the total migrant population in Mexico. Without being connected, these children are at increased risk of dangers such as abuse, trafficking and exploitation. The need for these migrants to have access to regular and reliable information is therefore critical.
Access relies on ensuring information dissemination systems are established in accessible areas. This means that NGOs such as Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF), which is dedicated to providing emergency response technologies, are vital to ensure that those displaced have access to the necessary information to make vital decisions for their future.
Since 2017, TSF has been working alongside its partner organisation FM4 Paso Libre to establish an ‘information diffusion system’ to address this critical challenge. The system comprises a network of micro-computers, connected via the internet to a central server.
This server distributes accurate, trustworthy and up-to-date information in real time to 10 strategically identified centres, covering the north and south of Mexico, as well as the western transit route between Mexico and the US. Via this pioneering system, 42,000 asylum seekers have been able to access vital information.
Building on the positive results from the initial phase of the project, the mission is expanding in 2021 to 31 new centres across Mexico and Central America, as well as Colombia, where migrants and asylum seekers also face similar challenges in exercising their right to asylum.
By implementing these technologies, TSF has been able to support tens of thousands of displaced migrants, providing them with vital information such as asylum application procedures, healthcare advice and information for vulnerable groups, such as children, women and the LGBTQ+ community.
During a recent evaluation of the mission, over 75% of the refugees asked said that the systems provided them with essential information they otherwise could not have accessed.
One individual, a young Cuban male travelling alone, commented: “Migrants in general have significant loopholes in Mexican law upon arrival… they are very vulnerable when it comes to their human rights… it is also important for them to know where to go to receive healthcare, and how best to get to a medical centre or to a hospital.”
Communication and access to information for many of us is a daily necessity and something we simply take for granted. And yet, millions of individuals who are often escaping war-torn and violent homes do not have the basic tools needed to remain safe while navigating through migration pathways.
More than ever, communities and industries must come together to support those facing such tribulations. We must collaborate through combined expertise, technology and resources to provide vital access to information and communication worldwide.
Connectivity should no longer be seen as a privilege; it’s now so critical, it’s a right.