Consider how you’ll use social media and web -based communication to better reach refugees. Read this guest post from Tej Mishra and Jessica Marks from the Refugee Center Online, the online resource and community center for refugees featured in a post last week.
Before launching the Refugee Center Online (RCO), the organization completed a needs assessment with refugees across the country to look at how refugees were using the internet. The RCO completed an informal survey with over 100 refugees from nine different ethnic groups (Afghan, Bhutanese, Congolese, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Karen, Nepali, Somali, Tibetan). The survey was a convenience sample of refugees from 18 different states. The survey was given both online and on paper and was conducted in refugee languages. Refugee participants ranged in age from 16 to 70 and included refugees who had been in the US between 5 months to over 15 years.
3 Significant Findings from RCO’s Refugee Survey
- Over 50% of refugees we surveyed used a computer at least once a day.
- Refugees typically use computers for things like checking email, social media, watching videos on YouTube or practicing English.
- Only half of the refugees we surveyed felt informed about life in America or well-connected to resources in their communities.
In addition, other research shows that most refugees and newcomers are accessing the internet on smartphones or public computers. In general, newcomers to the U.S. use smartphones at rates nearly equal to American-born citizens.
Refugees tend to access the internet in short blocks of time during free time, such as on their smart phones during their bus commute to and from work. Refugees may also depend on their younger family members to help them access forms or bills online and to translate web-based materials, which can put stress on refugee youth. Many adult refugees are quite techn savvy, Syrians in particular.
The RCO has also created a Refugee Technology and Advisory Council with refugees from different ethnic backgrounds. These individuals provided helpful insights on ways to help refugees feel comfortable online. Read some of their insights.
7 Tips for Communicating Virtually with Newcomers
- If possible, avoid log-ins. Try to prevent refugees from having to put personal information into the computer.
- Refugees have a hard time accessing PDFs because they may not open on their phones or on public computers due to spam shields. Instead, when creating information for refugees, try to make longer web pages that refugees can easily access and scroll down using their phones.
- Use images with hand-writing to help make refugees feel comfortable.
Build pages with bright, bold colors similar to refugee color schemes in their countries of origins
- If you have a contact form or need a refugee to include their email address, put a disclaimer on the site that explains why you need the information (to contact them) and that your organization will not share it with others.
- Find ways to engage families using technology.
- Refugees would prefer having materials available in both English and their first languages.
- Many refugees use facebook. Rather than thinking of your social media accounts as a way to connect only with your supporters, add content that will appeal to the refugees you serve.
If you have more ideas or questions about ways to engage refugees with technology, please feel free to email us directly.
Jessica Marks is the director of the Refugee Center Online. Jessica has worked with refugees in a variety of different capacities including running after-school programs for refugee youth in Washington, DC, serving as a teacher and school counselor for displaced youth on the Thai-Burma border, and researching rural refugee resettlement in the intermountain West.
Tej Mishra served as the RCO’s board chair from 2014-2015 and has now stepped into an advisory role. Tej has a Masters in Public Health from Boston University and is an Epidemiologist for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Tej and his family were originally from Bhutan; he was resettled in 2010.