By Eimear McNamara, ICT Communication Assistant, Geneva

DIFFA, NIGER: For the men, women and children forced to flee Boko Haram’s violence in Nigeria’s north-east, Sayam Forage refugee camp is an oasis of hope surrounded by harsh, unforgiving desert.

A new video released by UNHCR captures the communications hurdles presented by the camp’s remote location in the Nigerien region of Diffa, some 15 hours by road from the capital Niamey: “Sayam Forage is in the middle of nowhere – you have the impression that someone just planted a camp in the middle of the desert,” Alphonse Munyaneza, Head of UNHCR’s Sub-Office for Diffa, reveals in the video. “There are no phone lines there.”

Enter, the Refugee Emergency Telecommunications Sector (RETS), a UNHCR-led mechanism for coordinating the communications technology response in situations of displacement. To provide our partners with access to reliable connectivity services, RETS successfully deployed the government of Luxembourg’s emergency.lu solution at UNHCR’s Diffa office, wirelessly linking it to sites including Sayam Forage camp. “Connectivity gives you more efficiency in your service delivery,” Alphonse says. “When we received the support of the Refugee Emergency Telecommunications Sector, it was a blessing.”

Partner organizations, such as Action Pour le Bien Etre (APBE), can now carry out lifesaving activities thanks to the deployment, as emphasized by APBE’s Head of Office, Dr Mamane Sani Abdoul-Moumouni: “Before, people couldn’t even call us. Now, they can contact us through WhatsApp and Skype, and we can immediately send an ambulance.”

In the video, Elh Ridouane Ahmed Tyar, Refugee President for Sayam Forage camp, lists the positive effects the camp has had upon the lives and wellbeing of its residents: “Here are people who arrived stranded, barefoot, from basically nothing. We now have houses, we have our security intact, we have hospitals, we have schools.”

Each of these areas of assistance has been advanced and enhanced by connectivity, and the work of RETS in Niger is about more than a simple internet connection. Alessandra Morelli, Representative for UNHCR Niger, recognizes the broader, more profound impacts of establishing links through technology: “The connectivity project is allowing partners to speak the same language, to understand the same priorities. It’s inclusiveness. And through our inclusiveness we can guarantee that others are not left behind.”

Watch the video in English and French:

To find out more about UNHCR’s work in responding to the Nigeria situation, click here.