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Research and Recommendations for: Leveraging Technology to Support Refugee Youth in the Middle East and East Africa (2018)

Posted on:
February 22, 2020

Context

The report states that under the Conclusions and Recommendations of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) environmental scan into "Research and Promising Practices in Refugee Youth Services", program features it is recommended to "Use social media and new technologies as a way to multiply the channels of communication".

This ISSofBC report seeks to extend this recommendation to explore:

How to leverage technology securely and safely to provide additional support for refugee youth coming to Canada, taking advantage of the pre-arrival time, and current and future partnerships with government agencies and other involved organizations.

In compiling this report through interviews and review of existing research, the authors looked at the following questions to guide recommendations for the problem statement:

  • What are the existing technologies available to refugee youth prior to arriving in Canada?
  • What do we know about the adoption of technology by refugee youth prior to arriving in Canada?
  • What are the barriers to technology for refugee youth prior to arriving in Canada?

The key recommendations of this document attempt to provide a set of actionable steps for immediate implementation. Through these steps the related organisations and programs will increase the learning and gain momentum for further and farther- reaching technology implementations to support refugees including youth.

General Observations

A brief compilation of observations and findings gathered through research and interviews.

  • Whilst access to a mobile phone or smart phone is common, access to the internet (and carrier services) varies significantly for refugee youth. Factors influencing refugee youth access to the internet commonly depend on costs however other factors may include restrictions from parents or societal norms due to age and/or gender
  • For many refugee’s phones are commonly considered as tools essential to survival. Phones may be used for providing maps, accessing details on availability of services such as health care or current safety conditions, for communicating and staying connected to friends and family local and abroad, current news, etc. Services may sometimes be blocked in specific locations such as during times of political unrest
  • Youth are limited in where they can travel so convenience is a key factor of their access. In an urban area they will often go to a friend or neighbors to use the internet. In a rural area such as in a refugee camp they more commonly need to rely on resources available in the camp which are generally limited and constrained
  • The common use cases for refugee youth using the internet and social media is for communication and entertainment. This includes connecting with family and friends, watching movies, and playing games. They may also use the internet for some school and learning. Pre-arrival, the most commonly used social networking tools used by youth refugees are: Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber. It is common to use Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype and Viber to communicate with their families and friends in different countries, using either phone or video capabilities depending on location
  • Post-arrival, the adoption of social networking tools like Instagram and Snapchat increases as they are more commonly used by youth in North America
  • Trust is a high priority in all scenarios. Refugees are cautious about who they connect with on social media or websites they connect to due to heightened concern of predators or scammers. There are cases of fraudulent services offering to “expedite” a refugee’s immigration case and similar. Refugees are more likely to trust a communication initiated from a trusted organization or directly via family and friends

Summary of Findings

This paper provides a small contribution to supporting the further development and delivery of programs for refugee youth prior to their arrival in Canada. Refugee youth settling in Canada face challenges including severe culture shock, apprehension and anxiety, social integration, navigating the education system, discrimination and bullying, as well as generally adjusting to a new life in Canada. By providing additional mentoring and support to refugee youth prior to their arrival in Canada, it is proven that refugee youth greatly benefit and are better prepared to face these challenges. By leveraging technology to deliver these additional services across the varied locations of refugee youth, it is expected that refugee youth will complete resettlement more rapidly and move forward in to appropriate further services designed to support the next steps of their journey and their needs.

It is important to note that the demographic of this report represents a smaller audience when considering the general demographic of programs and services focussed on reaching refugee youth not limited to GAR youth. Therefore, existing refugee youth programs and initiatives should be leveraged to “springboard” and offer additional and focussed benefits for the demographics of this report, whilst minimising the resource investment in this smaller audience.

Interviews and preliminary research and analysis confirm the understanding that both the availability and accessibility of technology, as well as the adoption and choice of technology, for refugee youth, differs significantly between locations. This is evident when considering the implementation of the IOM’s Cultural Orientation Abroad program which has 20 permanent sites yet extends its reach with “mobile teams” to cover over 60 locations. The variation of technology availability and capacity between these permanent sites within this one organisation is significant. The variation to the more than 40 additional sites, ranging from hotels to schools or other community available sites, is further and more significant.

Research indicates the East Africa region has reduced accessibility to technology and more specifically to the internet, which is a key channel to providing services via technology to refugee youth. This finding readily relates to the history of the region including the age and volume of refugee camps like Dadaab opened more than 25 years ago. Whilst successful efforts to implement secondary schools and educational centers in these camps bring technology and the internet to many refugee youth, the sheer volume of these camps means that the need continues to exceed the availability of technology resources.

Though refugee youth access to technology varies by location, it was identified that access to technology is possible in almost all locations, at least to a minimum.

Refugee youth with access to technology appear to align with the global norms in terms of preference for usage and adoption. Internet usage is primarily used for communication with family and friends, and for entertainment, prioritized over looking for information. Social Media applications adopted by youth are identified as WhatsApp, Instagram, Viber, YouTube, Facebook and Facebook Messenger, and Skype. In line with youth social norms, applications that primarily leverage private group and peer to peer scenarios are preferred e.g. Messenger over Facebook.

Summary

This paper provides a small contribution to supporting the further development and delivery of programs for refugee youth prior to their arrival in Canada. How to leverage technology securely and safely to provide additional support for refugee youth coming to Canada, taking advantage of the pre-arrival time, and current and future partnerships with government agencies and other involved organizations.
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