Olly Parsons | GSMA | Thu, 22 Oct 2015 09:46:14 +0000

Photo credit: Emmanuel Kagimbura, ICRC 

MTN in Rwanda/Burundi
In April 2015, as thousands of refugees began fleeing pre-election tension in Burundi, the Rwandan Government established a new refugee camp on the border between the two countries, and has granted automatic refugee status to those arriving. By the end of June the numbers of refugees in Rwanda had reached the tens of thousands. Many people were separated from family members during the displacement process. Recognising the critical importance of communications for those who have been separated, MTN Rwanda has been working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide critical communications access.

The ICRC and the Rwanda Red Cross Society (RRCS) have been offering restoring ‘family links’ services, mainly through phone calls supported by MTN. The service, the free use of communications equipment at sites in the refugee camps, aims to help re-establish links between family members and loved ones still in Burundi, or displaced to other areas. Over 13,000 phone calls were made in the first 2 months of the service, with more than 8,550 calls resulting in restored family contacts and/or exchange of family news.

Many people still have their own mobile phones but were unable use them for a variety of reasons, including no access to the Rwandan mobile network, no airtime and no means of charging their phones. To reduce these barriers, the ICRC set up a free to use, ‘Mobile Solar Kiosk’, recognising that lack of access to power sources, whether through lack of availability or due to financial barrier, can restrict access to communications as much as lack of the technology in the first place.

To enable Burundi refugees to use their own phones, MTN Rwanda has provided 10,000 SIM cards, each pre-loaded with 500 RWF (Rwandan francs) of airtime. MTN has also provided personnel to register and activate the SIM cards individually.

As the work of MTN and the ICRC / RRCS continue, those forced to flee their homes and families are at least now able to attempt to reconnect with them, to share information and communicate. The move by MTN Rwanda to open up their network to those having fled crisis in their own country is clear attempt to support the principles of humanitarian connectivity.

Deutsche Telekom in Europe
In Europe, as refugees have continued to make the dangerous journey from Syria and the Middle East, operators have also taken supportive action. Deutsche Telekom has focused its efforts on providing shelters for refugees equipped with free Wifi hotspots, has supported staff who wish to assist in the response at refugee centres and registration points, and is working to set up an information portal. Assessments have been conducted on Deutsche Telekom owned buildings to establish if those no longer being fully utilised by the operator can be used as temporary shelter centres for refugees. In addition the operator is also providing a number of intern positions for refugees themselves.

“Having WiFi is essential at refugee shelters, because e-mail and messenger services are often the only way for refugees to get in touch with their relatives. For that reason, Deutsche Telekom will be helping aid organizations and public authorities set up an effective infrastructure,” said Deutsche Telekom CHRO Christian P. Illek, who is coordinating these efforts for the company.

We are aware of a number of other operators across Europe working to support the crisis through a number of technological, staff led and “traditional†corporate social responsibility activities.

Ericsson join the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter
Many of the MNO led actions seen in recent weeks, from the responses to refugee crisis across the world and the ongoing response following the earthquake in Nepal, to the recent storms systems which have passed over the Philippines, demonstrate an understanding of the principles of humanitarian connectivity. The principles of the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, which can be found here in full, support the continued access to communication and information for those affected by disaster and crisis. Aimed principally at mobile network operators, these principles cannot be fully realised without the support of the wider mobile and humanitarian sectors. For that reason we are very pleased to welcome Ericsson as the latest signatory to the Charter.

Ericsson participated in the Charter drafting committee and is the first ICT infrastructure and service provider to become a Charter signatory. Ericsson’s commitment to disaster and humanitarian response is long-standing, and the company’s Ericsson Response program recently marked its 15-year anniversary.

Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), says: “Well-functioning infrastructure is critical in disasters. Ericsson has shown a proven ability to deliver time and time again to the humanitarian community during disasters.

“Humanitarian response is a shared responsibility, and we need the private sector to play an important role in helping restore vital communications. We are very pleased to see Ericsson formally join the Charter.”

Note: The Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, launched by the GSMA at Mobile World Congress in March 2015, is supported by UN OCHA, the UN Emergency Telecommunications Cluster and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It was created following a series of industry workshops and collaboration facilitated by the GSMA Disaster Response program, in association with UN agencies, mobile operators, vendors and NGOs. The aim of the Charter is to create a more coordinated and predictable response to disasters.

 

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