Pathways to refugee empowerment through access to IT

KUALA LUMPUR, 10 November 2016 (UNHCR) –  A programme to enhance refugees’ access to Information Technology (IT) was recently launched in Kuala Lumpur by the STMicroelectronic Foundation (ST Foundation) in partnership with a refugee community organisation, the Coalition of Burma Ethnic Malaysia (COBEM). 

The programme, called Digital Unify, will provide refugees under COBEM free basic training in computer literacy and access to the necessary tools for this purpose. The one-year pilot phase will benefit 200 refugees from Myanmar.

“We live in the age of a digital revolution and information and communication technologies are vital for any real social and economic development”, said Naginder Singh, Representative of the ST Foundation.

The problem, according to Singh, is that less than 30% of the world population have access to computers.

“With more than 70% of the world unconnected to the mainstream, the vast digital divide could not be clearer”, said Singh. “Better connectivity means better opportunities, and our world will be better when more people get connected.”

Those most deprived of connectivity are usually underprivileged communities, including some 150,000 refugees registered with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Malaysia.

Hkawng Dau ZahKung, COBEM community coordinator, estimates that 80% of COBEM members lack basic knowledge of IT.

“Some refugees have never seen a computer or smartphone before coming to Malaysia,” said Hkawng.

Digital Unify is aimed at remedying this situation. A training lab will be set up for the benefit of refugees which will be equipped in Internet connectivity and computers for a trainer and up to 20 students per class.

These free computer literacy courses will cover subjects such as the use of search engines like Google and Wikipedia, as well as digital tools including email, word processor, and spreadsheet software.

As part of the programme, selected refugees will be trained as trainers to facilitate future courses for the community. The partners of this programme also anticipate that it would be expanded to other refugee communities after the first phase.

This partnership was facilitated by the UNHCR.

“We live in a globalized and technological era and if refugees are not connected, they will be left behind,” said Richard Towle, UNHCR Representative in Malaysia.

“The problem for refugees is that they are largely invisible. While grateful for the opportunity to be here in Malaysia, they remain unrecognized and have limited access to legal employment, education and skill training.”

Towle added that a programme such as this helps refugees become part of the wider global community, empowering them to be more self-reliant, and expanding the protection space for refugees overall.

By Kamilya Nelson | 10 November 2016

© UNHCR 2001 - 2011