Refugee Crisis in the Digital Era:
An Analysis

Hafiza Binti Abdul Samath

*Disclaimer: This post was written by the author of the post in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of United Nations Association Youth Platform (UNAYP).*

Picture Credit: Kaplan I. (October 26, 2018) “How Smartphones and Social Media have Revolutionized Refugee Migration” UNHCR Blog 

With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of the digital era many private owned news platforms mushroomed. The increase in these news platforms provided a rather brutally honest point of view to the crisis that's happening around the world. The rise of liberal mindset amongst millennials had resulted in many speaking up against the injustice , mainly on the human rights violations faced by refugees and indigenious communities around the globe. 


The first widely spoken refugee crisis was when the so-called third Palestinian uprising began on social media. The trend in speaking up for Palestinian began on social media platforms around mid-2021. Although there is a sharp increase in social justice activists in the digital era, only a small amount of organisations are stepping in to assist and create peace, especially the beacon of peacekeeping; the United Nations. 


Recently, the Taliban successfully took over the whole of Afghanistan after the drastic departure of troops of the United States. Live videos of Afghans climbing walls and holding onto the last airplane in hopes of fleeing Afghanistan have struck sympathy from everyone regardless of nationality. It is as if the whole Vietnam War ordeal came flashing back. This birthed another deep and concerning refugee crisis. Many fled to neighbouring countries and even to the western world. However, what is concerning is the emerging news after the settlement of these new refugees; will their basic rights be protected? 


The United Nations Refugee Agency states that Afghan refugees are one of the largest refugee populations. Many are displaced everywhere around the globe with no proper identification documents without their basic needs provided. With women and girls being put as a priority when fleeing, these very women and girls are still neglected from mental health evaluation, education and housing accommodation. 


The United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNWRA) which was established to assist Palestinian refugees, in particular, found that the Palestinian refugee crisis is the longest-lasting case of forced refugee migration. Whilst UNRWA has a mandate to help Palestinian refugees to achieve full human development, how could this be achieved if basic health care, property ownership and citizenship are not provided by many host countries to them? 


Although the conversation of the refugee crisis for both Afghans and Palestinians is still widely spoken about, many do not bring crucial and substantial matters to the spotlight. The fact that basic needs are not guaranteed is saddening and inhumane. The first thing that a functional and civilised human needs to survive is citizenship. Without it, education, health care and property ownership are just dreams. 


In addition to that, many stranded Afghan refugees are still homeless. Earlier in September 2021, the United Kingdom Home Office found that there was trouble housing the incoming Afghan refugees. One step in assisting and hosting refugees is to provide emphasis on humanity and humility which is rare in many hosting countries. 


The United Nations Refugee Agency and UNRWA should step in and keep track of refugees that are living in their host countries. This is because many host countries, even the most developed nations, are sidelining refugees. Data collection is crucial so that appropriate research and studies could be done to aid in improvisation for the betterment of refugees. 


As the world is turning fully digital, many refugees are out of the radar. It has become difficult to rely on phones, which are the most basic telecommunications and remote way of communication. Homeless refugees have made this option unapproachable and impossible for them to use. The UNHCR is indeed working on this connectivity hindrance by coordinating with appropriate communities. However, it should be noted that access to the internet is now a human right. We are now further leaving refugees in the dark, far behind than many others who have the privilege of citizenship, documentation and home.

Lieberman A. (24 April 2020) “ Can the UN establish a virtual new normal?” DEVEX.​

Many big social media platforms provide bite-sized news called infographics. This does not only raise awareness but also causes action. It is through these media platforms that the refugee crisis is now in the spotlight. The United Nations should somewhat play a role in providing much-needed bite-sized data as they are one of the few entities with a proper and in-depth dataset as opposed to other news organisations.


For instance, the UN recently posted a “meme” on Instagram showing that the world has not achieved equality; however, instead of providing a baseless meme, an interactive infographic with evidence and a dataset could be provided. 


Although the UN organs are all providing social media-based approaches, they should remember that they have the means to actualise and form change. More in-depth work should be done instead of mimicking any other news platform. 


Now that we are leaping towards a digital and online-based lifestyle, the UN as a peacekeeping organisation should act accordingly with the changing times as much bigger changes could be seen with appropriate action and initiative. 


The 17 sustainable global goals could gradually be achieved if every member state, especially those nations with veto powers, are committed to providing sustainability for all irrespective of nationality, skin colour and religion.


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