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Foreword – Navigating digital opportunities and risks
  • UNHCR Innovation and Digital Services
  • May 2024

More than ever before, digital technology is integral to the lives of forcibly displaced people and the humanitarian systems they interact with. The connected society has the potential to improve the day-to-day lives of millions of people on the move. Ensuring that access to this technology develops equally, and that both the benefits and risks in its use are considered carefully, involves complex challenges.

In this context, UNHCR developed its Digital Transformation Strategy 2022-2026, which highlights the transformative ways that digital technology can positively impact the lives of refugees and the work of UNHCR. It provides a framework for how UNHCR will approach the opportunities and risks of technology – such as online hate-speech, disinformation, misinformation, fraud and scams – now and in the future. An equal priority is further strengthening UNHCR’s capacity to use digital technology in line with emerging ethical and protection standards, alongside engaging with governments and the private sector to promote the realisation of core protection principles in digital technology use in high-risk contexts, such as border control.

UNHCR has also been working with partners to advance the opportunities available to refugees in the digital economy, balancing safe and equal access with emerging digital risks, through a project funded through the PROSPECTS partnership. While integration into the digital economy can prove highly advantageous, substantial efforts must be made to minimise risk and promote better labour standards for the wider benefits to be realised. We are glad to see such debates unfold in this issue of Forced Migration Review.

Economic, legal and social barriers can prevent forcibly displaced populations from benefiting from digital technology, and we are committed to developing holistic approaches to address those barriers. Efforts such as Connectivity for Refugees – a multi-stakeholder initiative looking to advance the connectivity of over 20 million forcibly displaced people and the communities that host them by 2030 – are paying dividends and gathering increasing interest from governments and private sector service providers alike.

As with any emerging field of study, a wide variety of different perspectives are at play. UNHCR is committed to continuing to cultivate inclusive, evidence-based debates, recognising the importance of engaging in critical discussions with academia, fellow practitioners and – most importantly – the communities we work with and for.

We hope that the constellation of actors involved in the evolution of digital technology in humanitarianism will have more and more opportunities to discuss, to disagree and to connect and move together towards action that makes a difference in the lives of forcibly displaced people.

UNHCR Innovation and Digital Services
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