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December 3, 2015

Refugees and the digital divide

Refugees and the digital divide

As reported around the SEiSMiC network (e.g. in Sweden and in Italy), cities are scrambling to find ways to manage the influx of Middle Eastern migrants arriving on their doorsteps. Digital communications can be enormously helpful in disseminating critical information to them about asylum-request procedures, housing, employment, schools and social services. But what’s being done to ensure that this new group of arrivals has access?

A new research report from the Washington D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute examines the steps taken by three global cities with historically high levels of foreign-born residents: New York, Barcelona and London.

The paper looks at measures to make communications accessible to immigrants and other potentially marginalised people vis a vis the cities’ efforts to:

  • make communications available in foreign languages;
  • ensure wide availability of free Internet connections (e.g. free wifi hotspots) and public computers; and
  • the offer of basic IT skills training to those who don’t know how to access digital information.

The authors find positive steps taken by all three cities, but conclude that only New York has a robust programme to eradicate all three barriers.

A special feature in the report looks at various ICT initiatives in Europe to address the immediate challenges of the current refugee crisis. These projects include Refugees Welcome, a website created by a Berlin NGO and widely known as the “Airbnb for refugees.

It also includes the newly created Welcome to Dresden app that makes public service information available in Arabic among other languages, and a UK project called Techfugees  involving volunteer programmers and other IT experts who work on a variety of ICT services to help newcomers.

The report can be downloaded here.