in: International Migration Review, first published 25.12.2022
Organizations working with refugees are increasingly using information communication technologies (ICTs) in their work. While there is a rich literature in the field of media and communications studies exploring how refugees use ICTs to meet their social and economic needs, this article focuses on whether and how refugees’ ICT use maps onto the policy concept of refugee self-reliance, focusing on the economic, educational, administrative, health, and security/protection domains of self-reliance in informal urban settings. Building on the literature on refugees’ ICT use, we use semi-structured interviews with urban refugees in Malaysia to understand how they use technology in their daily lives and whether these refugees’ digital practices support self-reliance. We also interviewed practitioners from the Malaysian United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office and non-governmental organization (NGO) sectors to better understand such institutions’ strategies for using ICTs to deliver economic, educational, administrative, health, and protection programs in local refugee communities. Our findings are twofold: refugees’ use of ICTs represented idiosyncratic ways of achieving self-reliance, but when institutions tried to implement ICT solutions to support refugee self-reliance at a population level, refugees either did not use these ICT solutions or were critical of the institutional solutions. The findings presented here have import for not only research on refugee self-reliance and ICTs but also the wider migration field, as organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration and national immigration authorities, integrate ICTs into processes that affect migrants’ and displaced peoples’ economic, social, and political inclusion in cities of arrival.