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Refugees lack of access to Internet, face restrictions for work in digital economy

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Refugees and displaced persons faced many issues in finding jobs in the digital economy of their host countries, especially due to regulations in those countries, lack of computers and Internet access, or even in certain cases lack of electricity, experts stressed during the launch of a new report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) on Thursday.

Using case studies from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, the report indicates that many preconditions for refugees to work in the digital economy were not met, or prevented them from finding employment.

“Refugees (…) often face exclusion from sectors of local labor markets, they struggle to learn new languages in host communities and they can often not accredit their pre-existing qualifications,” said Andreas Hackl, lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, who is one of the authors of the report.

Among the preconditions that could be missing in several countries were the “lack of reliable connectivity in many areas where refugees live” and “the difficulty to afford mobile data connectivity and internet access,” added Hackl.

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The lecturer also highlighted the very basic problem of unreliable electricity supply, especially in refugee camps and rural areas that are in crisis-affected countries.

Lack of skills for the digital economy, difficult access to hardware and software and difficulty in finding a place to work and study, were among other issues mentioned in the report.

As an example, refugees in Lebanon are severely restricted in their ability to work in the digital economy, even if the country has the world’s largest number of refugees per capita — one million registered refugees with the UN Refugee Agency, according to Rahib Shibli, director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) at the American University of Beirut.

“Refugees are only allowed to work as kind of daily laborers” in agriculture or construction, said Shibli. “So there was a gray zone when it came to the digital economy and digital skills.”

In Germany, refugees “sometimes have to accept positions that make them prone to exploitation” and could face “discrimination by race” due to perceptions in their host country, noted Sarah Kouzi, programs manager at CCECS.

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The report recommended addressing legal barriers to refugees’ employment, facilitating their access to Internet and working computers as well as helping them learn digital skills that will make them employable in a “digitized future of work.”

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