Migrants rescued by Topaz Responder Andreas Solaro/Getty Images

Connectivity and the Modern Refugee

For refugees, connectivity is not only a matter of survival; it also provides a route to self-reliance, boosting their own wellbeing and enabling them to contribute to their host communities. So it is vital that governments and the private sector ensure that the promise of Internet access for all includes displaced people.

GENEVA – They were fresh off the boat, the group of refugees I met this time last year. They had fled their homes in Syria, traveled halfway across Turkey, and placed their lives in the hands of a gang of people smugglers promising to get them to Europe. Despite all that they had endured, one of them told me, upon landing on the Greek island of Lesbos, that they had panicked only once during that perilous voyage: when their mobile phone signal disappeared.

That signal, however weak, had been the refugees’ only link to the outside world. When it vanished – when they truly had no way to contact family, friends, or anyone who could help them – they were gripped by a sense of isolation and fear more intense than they had ever experienced. It is a feeling no one should have to endure ever again.

For most people in the industrialized world – and everyone at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos – connectivity is a fact of life. We have mobile phones, tablets, and computers, all linked to superfast – and accelerating – broadband networks. Add to that an ever-increasing number of social-media platforms, and we are always in contact with one another. Information flows so freely and relentlessly, in fact, that we tend to worry more about overload than scarcity.