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In the wake of vast numbers of people seeking safety in the Middle East and Europe, the global online community has stepped in to offer help through technology. The movement has been named ‘Digital Humanitarianism’ – where individuals voluntarily provide or support humanitarian relief online, usually through crowdfunding.

Digital humanitarians do this by creating up-to-date maps, providing news in real time and helpful information using user-generated content within online communities. All of this can be accessed easily through a person’s smartphone.

This mobile technology opens up a vast online community – especially through social media – from which refugees can get support. They can get information for their journey, what to do when they arrive and what services are available to them. Looking further ahead, refugees and migrants can also find advice on settling into a new country – like language courses, starting school and finding work.

Because of this information, smartphones have become essential to people on the move. “Our phones and power banks are more important for our journey than anything, even more important than food,” a Syrian refugee called Wael told the Independent recently.

However, numerous studies by think-tank Samuel Hall have revealed a prominent digital divide in people’s ability to access the internet and online apps depending on where they are. The studies reveal around 90 percent of these mobile applications target migrants and refugees in Europe or the Middle East, rather than those in other geographic regions.

While the international media has been focused mainly on refugees in these regions, over a quarter of people on the move around the globe are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Samuel Hall’s work has shown how innovation in this field is based on mobile-technology developed to support refugees, but requires mobile connectivity, smartphones and digital literacy – which can put displaced people within Africa at a distinct disadvantage when trying to use it. As the study succinctly puts it, no smartphone means no access.

We need to move past technological solutions geared specifically for refugees in Europe and the Middle East, and ensure people displaced within Africa can also benefit from this vital new niche for people on the move. Only then can these innovative and life changing solutions benefit refugees worldwide.

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