Pathways to refugee empowerment through access to IT
KUALA LUMPUR, 10 November 2016 (UNHCR) – A programme
to enhance refugees’ access to Information Technology (IT) was recently launched
in Kuala Lumpur by the STMicroelectronic Foundation (ST Foundation) in
partnership with a refugee community organisation, the Coalition of Burma
Ethnic Malaysia (COBEM).
The programme, called Digital Unify, will provide refugees
under COBEM free basic training in computer literacy and access to the
necessary tools for this purpose. The one-year pilot
phase will benefit 200 refugees
“We live in the age of a digital revolution and information
and communication technologies are vital for any real social and economic
development”, said Naginder Singh, Representative of the ST Foundation.
The problem, according to Singh, is that less than 30% of
the world population have access to computers.
“With more than 70% of the world unconnected to the
mainstream, the vast digital divide could not be clearer”, said Singh. “Better
connectivity means better opportunities, and our world will be better when more
people get connected.”
Those most deprived of connectivity are usually
underprivileged communities, including some 150,000 refugees registered with
the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Malaysia.
Hkawng Dau ZahKung, COBEM community coordinator, estimates
that 80% of COBEM members lack basic knowledge of IT.
“Some refugees have never seen a computer or smartphone
before coming to Malaysia,” said Hkawng.
Digital Unify is aimed at remedying this situation. A
training lab will be set up for the benefit of refugees which will be equipped
in Internet connectivity and computers for a trainer and up to 20 students per
These free computer literacy courses will cover subjects
such as the use of search engines like Google and Wikipedia, as well as digital
tools including email, word processor, and spreadsheet software.
As part of the programme, selected refugees will be trained
as trainers to facilitate future courses for the community. The partners of
this programme also anticipate that it would be expanded to other refugee
communities after the first phase.
This partnership was facilitated by the UNHCR.
“We live in a globalized and technological era and if
refugees are not connected, they will be left behind,” said Richard Towle,
UNHCR Representative in Malaysia.
“The problem for refugees is that they are largely
invisible. While grateful for the opportunity to be here in Malaysia, they
remain unrecognized and have limited access to legal employment, education and
Towle added that a programme such as this helps refugees
become part of the wider global community, empowering them to be more
self-reliant, and expanding the protection space for refugees overall.
By Kamilya Nelson | 10 November 2016