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Digital Inclusion of Refugees Resettling to Canada: Opportunities and Barriers (2021)

Posted on:
July 3, 2021

What is this research about?

This report looked at the opportunities and limitations of digital tools in the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Canadian Orientation Abroad Programme's (COA) Pre-Departure Orientation Training for refugees coming to Canada.

What do you need to know?

According to researchers "There is now broad recognition that connectivity and access to digital tools and services are fundamental to inclusion and participation in society. The research study aims to assess and understand both the barriers and enablers of refugeeā€™s access, connectivity, and ability to use digital training tools with a view to optimize digital inclusion in their resettlement journey."

What did the researchers do?

Researchers used a mixed-method approach. They "surveyed 326 refugees over the age of 13 (the age eligibility requirement for COA) who had received their travel bookings and would soon resettle to Canada. The survey was translated from English into 15 languages and piloted across a test group of 18 participants to test for clarity and flow before being rolled out across all 12 COA permanent sites over a four-week period in February 2021." The survey was conducted over the phone "across 22 countries due to COVID-19 restrictions and enumerated by COA facilitators and interpreters who received training prior to administering the survey."

What did the researchers find?

Researchers found that "while 80 per cent of survey participants own mobile phones, ownership of other types of digital devices such as a laptops, desktop computers or tablets is comparatively low. Despite 70 per cent of survey participants having reliable access to internet, barriers such as cost and lack of digital literacy and skills, combined with factors related to disability, location, individual context, and gender need to be carefully considered and addressed to avoid the risk of excluding the most vulnerable as more digital approaches are adopted. The research also found that there are critical human elements needed to support COA participants that technology cannot replace, and that this reality should remain at the forefront of programme design and execution.

The report recommends awareness-raising, investment, and continued research and evaluation, in combination with capacity-building to enhance the digital literacy of refugees coming to Canada. This will help ensure that digital tools are accessible, impactful, and inclusive alongside the continued provision of the in-person pre-departure training."

Researchers made 8 specific recommendations for COA to implement:

  1. Recognition of, and advocacy for the fundamental role that digital literacy and skills will play in the success of refugees after their arrival in Canada
  2. Integration of digital skills and digital literacy training, including online security, as part of COA development and integration of digital skills/literacy training as part of COA-offered content
  3. Continued assessments of digital access and literacy across sites is important to understand and manage inclusion/exclusion and addressing particular needs
  4. Prioritizing and investing in pre-departure orientation content that can be shared through digital channels
  5. Pragmatic assessment of the digital channels available to reach refugees
  6. Change management and recruitment to support digital strategy execution
  7. Initiating a Working Group or Community of Practice that spans pre-departure and post-arrival orientation
  8. Emphasis on the role of digital tools to augment and enhance, rather than replace in-person pre-departure orientation training

Researchers asserted that "the move to digitization should not come at the expense of continued investment in-person group training which remains fundamentally important for refugees as they prepare for their new lives in Canada. The range of benefits provided by in-person training should not be underestimated. These include the opportunity to socialize and meet other people on a similar journey, developing confidence through immersive learning and role-playing and a group-based environment that can be tailored to psychosocial, learning and literacy needs. These and other benefits cannot be fulfilled by a virtual environment alone. There are critical human elements needed to support COA participants that technology cannot replace, and this reality should remain at the forefront of programme design and execution."

How can you use this research?

This research complements other recent research, including From Silos to Solutions: Toward Sustainable and Equitable Hybrid Service Delivery in the Immigrant & Refugee-Serving Sector in Canada (2021), Settlement 2.0 Project: Innovation is in our DNA (2020), and other related research focused on digital service provision.

The research should be viewed through both its common or overlapping recommendations and insights along with what is unique to refugees and digital service delivery.

In-Canada service providers can learn about refugees who are destined for their services to further their understanding of their clients' digital literacy strengths and challenges, to incorporate this learning into service and communication planning.

Policy makers must look at this report in its larger context, breaking the policy issues contained within out to the larger sector, and larger IRCC mandate and future vision of a hybrid service delivery model. As the Settlement Sector & Technology Task Group recommended, IRCC should, sooner rather than later, establish a hybrid service delivery lead. This lead needs to focus on cross departmental coordination that bridges current funding and efforts for immigration processing modernization with required investments in other program/department areas, such as settlement, language, refugee resettlement, innovation funding, and more.

Summary

This report looked at the opportunities and limitations of digital tools in the Organization for Migration (IOM) Canadian Orientation Abroad Programme's (COA) Pre-Departure Orientation Training for refugees coming to Canada.
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