Guidance Note - Connectivity for Refugees COVID-19: Supporting Persons of Concern’s digital access and inclusion to facilitate UNHCR’s Risk Communication and Community Engagement

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This guidance note on Connectivity for Refugees is intended as a quick reference tool to support colleagues working directly with populations of concern in response to COVID-19. It complements the Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) guidance and highlights issues related to connected communication channels, internet access and modalities for delivery.

Operational Context

Given the speed of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is important that UNHCR utilises the different communication channels available to effectively communicate with Persons of Concern (PoCs) on the evolving situation. Furthermore, UNHCR needs to ensure that PoCs without access to digital channels, specifically relied upon in the current context, are not left behind. UNHCR needs to maintain communications with PoCs remotely regardless of age, gender or other diversity. Access to Internet connectivity - and in particular mobile telephones - varies dramatically per country and per region.

Research by UNHCR demonstrates that PoCs are less likely to have access to connectivity than their hosting populations, specifically half as likely in rural areas. The global trade association for mobile network operators - the GSMA - has found that there are substantive differences in levels of access, and unique barriers to access, based on age, gender and diversity of the population in question. Specific barriers include lack of access to devices, digital literacy, lack of access to energy to power devices, and absence of cellular networks.

UNHCR should maximise the reach and level of engagement with individuals remotely, leveraging connectivity where feasible. Measures should be taken to minimise the number of individuals with no or limited access directly, pivot existing activities to adapt to social distancing requirements, and support public health goals by encouraging refugee inclusion in national telecommunications frameworks and as a focus population segment for public health campaigns undertaken over digital channels.