Publications, reports, and articles.

The Digital Leisure Divide and the Forcibly Displaced - Part 1: Desk Research (2022)

Posted on:
November 7, 2023

In this report authors document the evidence on digital leisure in the forced displacement context, highlighting issues unique to it. They outline the main uses and potential benefits of digital leisure in refugee contexts. It brings together evidence from research and industry reports at the global level with an emphasis on Brazil as a region of interest for the first phases of this project.

This is part 1 of a 2-part series. The second report is based on field research.

"The report starts by conceptualizing the digital leisure divide as an important aspect of
existing digital gaps among forcibly displaced communities. It covers the main infrastructural,
cultural, and political limitations that exist for refugees’ connectivity. We emphasize the vast
variation in connectivity and specific contextual limitations and opportunities in different
locations. Considering this, the proposed digital leisure perspective is presented with a focus
on communities and their actual preferences and uses of technologies which overwhelmingly
include leisure activities such as:

  • one-to-one and group messaging;
  • sharing of photos, videos and music;
  • accessing social media;
  • online gaming;
  • consumption of audiovisual content;
  • romancing;
  • shopping.

It is also important to note their preference for mainstream platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube, as opposed to approaches to connectivity and digital inclusion that promote the creation of apps especially designed for refugee services and uses. Thus, a typology of digital leisure activities is suggested, including entertainment, gaming, sex/sexuality/intimacy, content creation, social capital, community voice and contemporary livelihoods. It incorporates current UNHCR policies, including its Age, Gender and Diversity Policy as well as Community-led guidelines that take a bottom-up approach to refugee connectivity and digital inclusion.

The intersectional perspective on digital connectivity, access and literacies that underlies this report provides an overview of the unique challenges that can be bridged by a digital leisure approach to digital inclusion, by emphasizing the activities and devices that forcibly displaced communities favor and access. Among the various limitations these populations face, three main intersectional aspects emerge as relevant determinants of refugee digital gaps in access and use: gender (including male/female and LGBTQI+), age (children, youth and older refugees) and disability (physical/sensory/cognitive). The report highlights the importance of considering a participatory, community-based approach to understand forcibly displaced communities within digital inclusion research and technological solutions, in line with various UNHCR policies.

The ways in which forcibly displaced people navigate and negotiate digital spaces offer important insights to understand how they adopt and use new technologies and the possibilities of digital leisure for sustainable livelihoods and enhanced wellbeing in forced migration contexts. According to the literature reviewed, some of the main functions of social media content creation and consumption for refugees shed light onto some of the benefits of leisure in forcibly displaced people’s lives:

  • Express aspirations;
  • Escape from harsh realities;
  • Pass the time while waiting;
  • Convey desires and goals;
  • Maintain memories and connections to their past;
  • Connect with their family and support networks;
  • Preserve and express their various identities;
  • Negotiate platform guidelines and privacy;
  • Enter public discourse about themselves;
  • Counter existing misconceptions

The report provides some insights to academics, industry, humanitarian organizations and the public sector on the main findings, approaches and possibilities of digital leisure as a pathway towards more fulfilling lives and expanded opportunities for people going through forced migration situations around the world, with a focus on Brazil as the specific context where the pilot research project will be deployed."

The PDF below is designed in a two-page width/column format making it a bit difficult to read embedded here. You can download it below.


In this report authors document the evidence on digital leisure in the forced displacement context, highlighting issues unique to it. They outline the main uses and potential benefits of digital leisure in refugee contexts.