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Why are mobile phones so important for Syrian refugees in Lebanon?

Syrian refugees living in Lebanon today are facing limited freedom of movement, limited access to services, and constrained labor rights. For these people, mobile phones serve as essential tools for rebuilding social networks shattered by involuntary displacement.

Refugees suffering from displacement often live in informal settlements on the outskirts of cities where they face geographical, political, and economic isolation. While there, they must secure their livelihoods by means of navigating a foreign context characterized by decentralized aid provision, private systems, and informal networks of resource allocation.

New research from the Stockholm School of Economics and the Swedish Defense University show that, in this context, mobile phones play a key role. This technology aids Syrian refugees in:

(1) reviving social connections lost because of war,

(2) building and leveraging new networks in Lebanon (e.g. with aid workers, medical specialists, and neighbors), and

(3) maintaining contact with employers.

These connections ultimately allow Syrian refugees to restore parts of their social capital, acquire elements of social security, and access work even while facing restricted freedoms.

However, while mobile phones do grant refugees a degree of agency in an impoverished context, they also present limitations. In many cases, they are economically burdensome and represent an investment with uncertain returns. Further, in worst-case scenarios, they may also increase competition between refugees for limited resources.

Not enough is known today about the desperate conditions that refugees face and how the global community might best intervene to alleviate their suffering. This research was conducted to better grasp how technology and innovation might serve to improve refugees’ situation.

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