Access to a mobile phone and the internet is viewed by many refugees as being as critical to their safety as food, water and shelter, a study has found.

A report by UNHCR and global professional services firm Accenture, based on research conducted in 44 countries, found that connectivity for community with friends and family in both home and host countries was seen as critical by refugees and that location and cost are two of the biggest barriers to accessing communications.

It also found that refugees, UNHCR staff and NGOs all see connectivity as critical to the protection of refugees but notes that there are security risks associatd with refugees revealing their identities online, especially for those at "political risk".

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that internet connectivity and smart phones "can become a lifeline for refugees, providing an essential means for them to give and receive vital information, communicate with separated family members, gain access to essential services, and reconnect to the local, national and global communities around them".

“Most importantly, connectivity can help broaden the opportunities for refugees to improve their own lives and pursue a vision of a future that would otherwise be denied to them."

Noting that while urban-based refugees have similar internet and mobile phone coverage as the rest of the world but that those based in rural areas don't, UNHCR is calling for improvements to mobile phone networks as well as access to more affordable devices with internet capability. They say that providing mobile broadband is a feasible way of improving refugee connectivity.

"Providing free and low-cost Wi-Fi for refugees in community centres, schools and similar places can also boost access, particularly when costs would otherwise be prohibitive."

www.unhcr.org/5770d43c4