For millions of refugees, Wi-Fi really is a matter of life or death. A recent article from The Economist highlighted just how important Wi-Fi access is for those making their way across Europe to safety.
“I need to stay in touch with my wife back home,” said Hekmatullah, a 32-year-old Afghan man in a migrant camp near Athens, Greece, who sometimes must choose between connectivity and food. Wi-Fi keeps refugees connected with loved ones. When Wi-Fi is not available, many walk for miles to try and find Wi-Fi elsewhere or spend most of their remaining money on pricey alternatives like mobile-phone credit.
Wi-Fi plays a key role in all aspects of the journey. When refugees leave home, Wi-Fi access and “phones become a lifeline. Their importance goes well beyond staying in touch…They bring news and pictures of friends and family who have reached their destination, thereby motivating more migrants to set out. They are used for researching journeys and contacting people smugglers.”
When refugees reach the migrant camps across Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, high-tech scanners and other wireless technologies like Wi-Fi help camp resources reach as many people as possible.
They also help refugees learn and practice new digital skills that will make integrating into their new countries easier and smoother. In Berlin, for example, the ReDI School of Digital Integration is teaching people in the camps how to code. In Lebanon, the Clooney Foundation for Justice and Google are setting up pop-up schools with laptops preloaded with educational materials.
Wi-Fi, and the unlicensed spectrum that makes it work, is an invaluable resource for everyone, but most importantly for the refugees who rely on wireless connections to get and stay safe, to inform themselves and their home communities, and to navigate the long and arduous process of resettling.
As we advocate for Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum, it’s important to keep in mind how much this resource matters for society’s most vulnerable — being connected really makes a difference for refugees and other displaced people.