Talk:WS 10: Confronting the digital divide (2) - Refugees, human rights and Internet access

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NOTE: The Session CONFRONTING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE is comprised of two workshops looking at internet access and human rights for minorities and refugees. WORKSHOP 2, is entitled Internet Access and/as Human Rights for Minorities. WORKSHOP 10 is entitled Refugees, human rights and Internet access.

Detailed Session description

For some commentators a striking feature of the current refugee and migrant crisis is how central a role mobile phones and internet access play in providing information, and contact with family back home as they seek refuge from war and conflict. Keeping these devices working, and being able to use various sorts of social media, is a vital lifeline for displaced persons on the road. They also play an integral role in being able to start a new life as newcomers in another part of the world.

But providing internet and mobile phone access to these communities raises a number of questions for policy makers and service providers, be it for physical access and online service provision for people on their way to safety, whilst awaiting the outcome of their applications throughout the world, or for their needs such as education and information on public services once resettled. This flash panel brings together a range of views and expertise on the legal and technical challenges that arise when providing internet access and mobile phone provisions to refugees.

Who protects asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented people's human rights online, if they fear/are in conflict with both their home countries and EU countries? - The interaction with politics and legal situation. Including fear and myths about digital surveillance 'I can be tracked even in my phone is off', internet access in detention/immigration removal centres/camps, Facebook profiles and online content being used in asylum cases, lack of the right to work thus preventing those with technical and other skills from using them.

These themes include, but are not restricted to the following issues, and in light of the outcomes of Workshop 2:

  • The refugee crisis had brought the issue of access on one side and, on the other, technological innovations in the service of humanitarian relief to a new level of debate; e.g. many apps are being developed which is leading to a fragmentation of initiatives. These offers then suffer from issues in terms of the quality of content (is it accessible, verified, updated?) and other terms of use. Meanwhile, humanitarian workers on the field, both from international and local organizations, lack adequate technical training to allow them to understand the potential misuse, or risks related to how refugees actually use their personal devices, or mobile apps. This can lead to personal and sensitive data being shared because of urgency but without suitable safeguards based on human rights norms for access and use of the internet.
  • Who provides access and online services for populations in urgent need and in temporary and traumatic circumstances? What needs to be done to clarify the respective roles and appropriate balance between the work of UN agencies and commercial service provision of internet access in refugee camps? When does urgency outweigh larger issues around ownership and control, appropriate human rights provisions for these circumstances?
  • How can policy-makers and humanitarian aid-workers respond to assumptions that refugees are more likely to be IT illiterate or functionally illiterate and thereby unable to enjoy the range of services that European citizens take for granted? Should internet access come before food/cloths and housing, is this an either/or under the circumstances?
  • How can access to the internet be combined in sustainable ways with existing human rights frameworks such as the right to education, privacy, and cultural diversity? In light of points raised in Workshop 2, how can public access in institutions such as libraries be developed in order to bring new citizens into contact with other services (e.g. language support, help with up-skilling and jobs, and of course support in learning how to use online services available to other citizens)?
  • In cases where access to social media, or to communications platforms like VOIP provide crucial social tools for people to mitigate the dislocation they experience when disconnected from their normal social environment, how can access be enhanced and encouraged to enable these necessary interactions for being able to flourish within a new environment?
  • What is the private sector’s role in providing this digital divide at all points of a refugee’s journey to safety? What are these service providers’ obligations with respect to host governments? E.g. who should provide WiFi access to large populations on the move, and on which terms?
  • How do these practical solutions relate to more intransigent issues e.g. the intersection of existing socioeconomic inequalities with digital exclusion and howq these are both exacerbated for asylum seekers, migrants and refugees?
  • Where to distinctions such as age, education, gender hierarchies, language needs, or knowledge about terms of consent to free services require particular attention for newcomers?
  • In terms of knowledge and awareness about the current crisis, and how refugees are perceived in an increasingly hostile way, how can the internet provide spaces for individual and community expression of experience, testimonies by asylum seekers, and other undocumented people in order to address the tensions and conflicts around developing humane policies for refugees arriving, and those settling in Europe?