21st Century Refugees and Their Access to Technology

As we recognize the United Nations’ World Refugee Day, one of our former interns, Jake Lockledge, offers his insights on the conditions faced by refugees in Uganda. Jake is an International Studies major at the University of Michigan and is currently completing research on refugees’ access to technology within the UNHCR Nakivale refugee settlement. 

Since the General Assembly voted in December of 2000 that June 20th would be internationally recognized as World Refugee Day, a lot of things have changed. The world is more energy-efficient, social media has reshaped communication, and Jose Chameleone made his debut. But, a fair amount hasn’t changed. People still battle prejudice, income gaps continue to rise, and Yoweri Museveni is still the president of Uganda.

In 1951, the international community defined what it meant to be a refugee and in 2000 they decided to recognize refugees’ struggle annually. Forced migrants have not somehow migrated in a world outside our ever-changing society; rather they have experienced its changes with brutal force and now find themselves navigating entirely new lives in new countries.

Uganda plays a central role in the protection of refugees within the East African community. Over 477,000 asylum seekers and refugees have crossed Uganda’s borders to reside in a country surprisingly dedicated to their well-being. Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister allocates plots of land to refugees to encourage economic participation, subsistence, and development. While the government’s treatment of refugees is by no means perfect, and their policies could be adjusted, I think their program has particular merit given the culture it rests in and the world surrounding it.

One of the biggest changes that has come in the 16 years since World Refugee Day became recognized is technology. There is an app for everything, the world relies on Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, and “do you have the Wi-Fi password?” has become an extremely common phrase. The situation is no different for refugees. Technology influences the way people communicate, gather information, and share that information for the benefit of others. People who have been forced out of their home nation have to familiarize themselves with the unfamiliar. Internet-enabled smart phones and computers offer a chance to be connected with the world, so that task becomes marginally less daunting. They can answer important questions such as: What rights do refugees have in Uganda? What crops grow in Western Uganda during the dry season? What is the political condition of South Sudan? Technology also offers employment opportunities. Those with programming abilities, and even basic skills like typing and printing, have opportunities to secure wage earning professions as secretaries or computer technicians.

This World Refugee Day, I invite you to consider the work of the Maendeleo Foundation, striving for computer literacy across Uganda. Now, imagine if it were able to reach beyond nationals.  What if refugee settlements contained computer literacy programs? What if we capitalized on a government mindset that seems to prioritize the sustainability of its refugee populations? A lot has changed in the past 16 years; perhaps it is time for refugees’ ability to access technology to do the same.

Jake Lockledge, ’17

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