'Digital Divide' on a navy background with an image of a person being blocked from wifi

13 January 2021

There is a digital divide and, all too often, refugees and asylum seekers are stranded on the wrong side. We can take action together. Help us put pressure on phone companies to do more by signing this petition.

‘Without internet, I would describe my life like living in a jungle, because I am not in touch with the world, family, and friends.’

That’s how one individual who has sought asylum described lacking access to internet enabled technology. Where is this ‘jungle’, cut off from the world? In this country, in homes near you, during a pandemic where the safest way to communicate is online.

What is the Digital Divide?

Refugee Action has identified two areas of need for technology in the asylum seeking and refugee community:

  1. Students and schoolchildren who need devices like laptops that are suitable for study at home and enough WiFi or data to last the school week.
  2. Highly isolated asylum seekers with little to no internet access where a smartphone and a moderate amount of data could help them keep in touch with family, friends, and support networks.

For both groups, living isolated in this no-tech ‘jungle’ is causing serious harm. Young people are losing out on their future as they fall into even more educational disadvantage than they may have already experienced through language barriers and conflict disrupted schooling. Isolated and lonely asylum seekers are experiencing damaging effects on their mental health, to add to trauma they may have experienced in the past and the stress of awaiting the outcome of an asylum claim. The pandemic has reduced their access to charitable support networks who might have provided a listening ear or even counselling support at drop-in centres around the country.

Access to internet enabled technology is a small thing that could ease the situation of these people and help them move confidently towards a more hopeful future. Providing devices is just the start. Data is also essential. A video call on Zoom can use up to 0.8GB of data an hour, meaning that an hour’s video call each week will completely use up a 2GB monthly data plan. Asylum seekers living on £5.38 a week can hardly even afford this minimal plan. Schoolchildren and students who are expected to join virtual classrooms or lectures throughout the week have no hope to manage their data needs, and even a mother wanting to speak to two or three children overseas will have to heartbreakingly ration contact.

This needs to change. That’s why we are asking you to join our Digital Divide campaign.

There are three actions we want you to take:

  1. Sign our petition calling on phone companies to set aside a pot of money for digital inclusion among asylum seekers and refugees, and encourage people to sign.
  2. For STAR groups to write to local businesses who might have laptops or phone to throw away, asking them to donate them instead to organisations distributing them to asylum seekers or refugees.
  3. For STAR groups to fundraise for a local charity working with asylum seekers and refugees so that they can provide devices and data for their clients.

    Together, we can find a way out of the no-tech jungle.
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