Internet Governance Forum – Refugee Rights and Emerging Technologies: Building a Digital Future for All?

During the previous weeks in class we have been focusing on technology and development, specially honing in on the Internet Governance Forum and accessibility to technology. This morning I attended the 13th annual Internet Governance Forum hosted in Paris, France – virtually.The forum I selected to attend was titled Refugee Rights and Emerging Technologies: Building a Digital Future for All? The purpose of the panel was to discuss connectivity or lack thereof that refugees face, as well as the preservation of their human rights both physically and digitally. The discussion consisted of four panelist representing Google, Amnesty International, and the civil society. Unfortunately, the United Kingdom’s government representative was not able to attend the panel.

The panel was extremely informative, exposing me to new concepts about life within refugee camps. During the forum I learned that within refugee camps, the public and private sectors have been forming coalitions in order to test out technology such as data collection and digital identification. Learning about this was disturbing, given the fact that refugees already have limited access to the digital world which creates a space for vulnerability because camps administrators are not being held accountable, which brings to question how the private and public sectors are collecting data. One of the four panelist Jean from Konexio commented that 1/3 of disposable income of refugees is spent on phone plans, and that 1/3 or students within these camps have smart phone. However, it was immediately followed up with discussing connectivity in nuances such as the degree in which people have the ability to connect, which boils down to aspects such as bandwidth and how literate the individual is within the digital context.

Astri the Google representative brought up a great point that reaffirmed Jean’s comments speaking on the degree in which refugees are connected and what companies such as Google can do to bridge that gap. She spoke about Google initiatives on providing technology and applications such as Maps and Google Translate on low bandwidth service in order to make them more accessible, while discussing how YouTube allows refuges to provide their own positive narratives due to the securitization narratives that have emerged as a result of politicizing refugees.

Attending virtually was interesting, given the fact that the panel was held at 9 am in Paris, meaning that on the East Coast of the United States it was 3 am. I selected this panel because of my particular interest in migration studies, which naturally intersects with the concerns of preserving human rights for refugees. Overall this panel was phenomenal due to its diverse perspectives and the contributions made. Lastly, this panel was an all-female panel an aspect that was pointed out right from the very start.