Channels of Protection: Communication, Technology, and Asylum in Cairo, Egypt

By Danielson, Nora | Refuge, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Channels of Protection: Communication, Technology, and Asylum in Cairo, Egypt


Danielson, Nora, Refuge


Abstract

Communication between service providers and refugees about services, legal processes, and rights helps shape refugees' experience of asylum but has, in Cairo, Egypt, been a source of misunderstandings and conflict. Based on qualitative pilot research, this paper explores the practices, challenges, and potentials of information technologies old and new in facilitating access to asylum in this southern city. Interviews with refugee and service providers and review of previous technology-based initiatives show that although service providers tend to rely on oral information transfer, other channels--print, phone, text messaging, websites, social media--hold significant capacity for growth. Existing practices and initiatives in Cairo demonstrate the potential for technology-based projects to overcome the geographic barriers of the urban setting and the range of literacy and languages in Cairo's refugee communities. However, service providers and refugees require further funding and institutional support if this potential is to be realized.

Resume

La communication entre les services et les refugies au sujet des ressources, des processus juridiques et des droits influence l'experience des refugies, mais au Caire, en Egypte, cet aspect a ete une source de malentendus et de conflits. Base sur une recherche qualitative pilote, cet article explore les pratiques, les defis et le potentiel des technologies de l'information, anciennes et nouvelles, dans la facilitation de l'acces a l'asile dans cette ville du sud. Les entretiens avec les refugies et les responsables des services, ainsi que l'examen de precedentes initiatives technologiques, montrent qu'alors que les services comptent toujours sur la transmission orale de l'information, d'autres moyens tels que l'imprime, le telephone, la messagerie texte, les sites web, et les reseaux sociaux, consistent en autant de possibilites significatives de developpement. Les pratiques et les initiatives actuelles au Caire illustrent que les projets technologiques ont le potentiel de surmonter les barrieres urbaines et la variete des langues et des degres de litteratie des communautes de refugies du Caire. Toutefois, les organisations et les refugies ont besoin de davantage de subventions et de soutien institutionnel pour realiser ce potentiel.

Introduction

Most of the world's refugees live in their region of origin, and more than half lice in urban centres, where their period of asylum often lasts many years. The experiences of forced migrants in cities in the global south are shaped by intersecting stressors and constraints, many of which are impervious to change. This paper examines one set which, it argues, is neither intractable nor insignificant: the channels of communication through which humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations communicate with refugee communities (1) about rights, processes, and services available through refugee or asylum seeker status.

Taking as a case study one of the world's major refugee-hosting cities--Cairo, Egypt--this paper outlines the findings of a 2011-12 qualitative pilot study of the changing technologies of service provider outreach to refugee communities. First, the paper shows that communication and information about asylum in Cairo has significant psychosocial, service provision, and protection impacts. Second, the channels and technologies that service providers use to communicate asylum-related information differ in reach, efficacy, and ease of use for both service providers and refugee communities. Third, evidence of contextual barriers, population diversity, and local use and interest in new technologies by refugees and service providers highlights considerable need and capacity for the improvement of such communication. Setting out these findings in a context of rising global interest in innovation and technology, I argue that urban refugee community outreach is due greater attention and policy development than it currently receives. …

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