More than food and water, the refugees arriving in the Balkans wanted one thing in particular: free Internet access.
When the number of refugees who were trying to reach Western Europe on the Balkan route increased dramatically last year, SOS Children’s Villages saw that many refugees needed help to meet one of their most urgent needs: communication.
“We came across interesting statistical information,” said Mr Zoran Murgoski, SOS’s ICT Advisor in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. “The number one question the refugees asked when they arrived at the refugee camps was ‘Where can I find free internet access?’ The number two question was ‘Where can I get food and water?’ And number three was ‘Where can I get more information about how I can continue my trip further?’”
To help children and families connect, SOS set up four Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Corners in FYR Macedonia and Serbia as part of our emergency response to help refugees arriving in Europe in 2015.
An ICT Corner is a mobile container unit equipped to offer wireless Internet, computers, printing, scanning and copying services, and charging stations for phones and other devices.
From November 2015 through February 2016, the four ICT Corners provided services to more than 150,000 users. The most popular service was the free wireless Internet. “We had days when we had approximately 1,500 to 2,000 users per day, per location, connecting to the free wireless network,” says Mr. Murgoski.
For 16-year-old Rifat from Syria, visiting the ICT Corner in the refugee centre in Preševo, Serbia, became a daily routine.
“I come here to chat with my brother on Facebook,” Rifat says. His younger brother reached Germany several months ago. Uncertain when they'll see each other again, the brothers keep in touch online. For many refugees, ICT services are the only way to stay connected with their families and friends on their difficult journeys to Europe.
Opened in November 2015, the ICT corner in Tabanovce, FYR Macedonia, offers free computer usage, free Wi-Fi and printing services to refugees.
While most of the users are refugees, SOS ICT Corners also provide an important service for other humanitarian workers on the ground. In emergency situations, other aid organizations and even government agencies that do not have their own infrastructure set up and use the SOS ICT Corners for their urgent communications.
Since 2015, SOS has provided on-the-ground aid to refugees, internally displaced families and unaccompanied children in 14 countries. Services include ICT Corners, childcare spaces, housing for unaccompanied youth, food, medical and psychological care and more.
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