In today’s world, ‘protection’ cannot be complete without access to technology. We must use new tools and technologies to empower refugees, given the importance of the internet, social media and distance learning. In recognition of this, UNHCR is striving to ensure that access to technology – primarily, the internet, mobile phones and solar lights – is strongly incorporated into its protection and operations model.
Since 2010 UNHCR has opened 31 Community Technology Access (CTA) centres for refugees and IDPs both in urban areas and in remote field locations in 13 countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Some 10 additional centres will open later in 2011, including in Sudan, Nepal, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Republic of Moldova and Costa Rica. CTAs provide access to the internet even in the remotest settings to connect communities, families and individuals, to provide distance learning and livelihoods opportunities and to raise awareness of rights.
In Armenia, Ramella took part in the CTA programme and has now found employment teaching basic computer skills to children at a school in the neighbouring village. In Georgia, Mari, who fled her home in South Ossetia in 2008, enrolled in a CTA course: “I was an accountant but not IT-literate and couldn’t find a job. Now I have a job as a cashier.”
In Kiziba camp in Rwanda, some 145 teachers are learning basic computer skills at the centre during school holidays. And in Kenya’s Kakuma camp, Somali refugee Suad uses the computers in Kakuma’s CTA to “research specific problems affecting my immediate community in order to work on a plan to solve the problem – for example conducting research on why the rate of the girls’ enrolment in schools is very low in our community.” Suad also follows courses in an American university via the internet.
As with other projects, CTAs may be affected by operational problems such as limited financial resources or restrictive state policies (for example, limited or lack of access to internet and new technologies) but they can at least help remove geographical restrictions and barriers to education, job creation and family reunification.
Daniela Ionita (IONITA@unhcr.org) is CTA Programme Coordinator, Operational Solutions and Transition Section/Division of Programme Support and Management, UNHCR (http://www.unhcr.org/CTA).