September 19, 2021

Connectivity for inclusion, identity and belonging

Case Study By

Mr. Filippo Grandi

High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR

State of Broadband 2021

The ideas and opinions expressed in this insight are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of ITU and UNESCO or the Broadband Commission. The mention of specific companies, products or services does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by ITU or UNESCO or Broadband Commission in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.

There are more than 80 million people around the world who have been forced from their homes. Uprooted from friends and family, their connections with home are tenuous while at the same time, additional challenges, like a new language or culture, can inhibit their ability to bond with and be included in their host community.

Connecting, for them, is more than something nice to have, but an essential tool to retain a sense of identity; of inclusion; of belonging.

With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating technological change and an increasing number of services – including basic services like education – moving online, digital connectivity is even more important. If vulnerable people, including refugees and internally displaced people, are not able to access these opportunities, they and their children are at risk of being left behind.

The Broadband Commission gets this and has made universal connectivity a cornerstone of its work. Yet to truly achieve this goal for refugees and other forcibly displaced people, we need to ensure that the Broadband Commission’s 2025 targets prioritize them and others often on the margins of society.

UNHCR therefore encourages the Broadband Commission to consider three interrelated approaches that would further refugee and others’ connectivity.

First – the Broadband Commission can provide greater support and expertise to national initiatives that seek to expand digital inclusion of refugees, displaced, stateless people and their hosts.

Second – the Broadband Commission can continue its own drive to include less connected and marginalized communities and users. By listening directly to refugees, internally displaced and stateless people, including youth, women, and others such as the disabled, the Broadband Commission can provide space for their voices and ensure that their hopes and aspirations are also championed.

Third – in order to achieve digital inclusion of the most marginalized, new approaches and techniques need to be applied. The Broadband Commission could create space for innovators around the world to share their experiences so we can all learn from and share best practice.

As we work towards a post COVID-19 world, we must ensure that digital connectivity – like vaccines – reaches everyone, including refugees, displaced and stateless people around the globe.