Download the report, 'Mobile is a Lifeline: Research from Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, Tanzania' here.

In May 2017 Jigsaw conducted a research study in Nyarugusu, Tanzania, to understand the level of mobile phone access among refugees, the ways in which they use mobile phones and the internet, and the related barriers and challenges.

Nyarugusu camp hosts more than 136,000 refugees, serving a long term Congolese population who have been displaced since the late 1990s, and a recent influx of Burundian refugees who fled conflict in April 2015. In 2016 a mobile tower was installed in the camp for the first time, providing the refugee population with access to 3G connectivity. Nyarugusu remains the only camp of three large camps in the Kigoma region of Tanzania to be connected to 3G.

GSMA's Disaster Response team works with mobile network operators, governments, humanitarian organisations and a range of other stakeholders to improve mobile and internet connectivity for displaced communities. They are working together with UNHCR to strengthen access to connectivity in camp settings. 

This research study builds on previous GSMA and UNHCR research, to provide evidence regarding the use of, need for, and impact of mobile phone and the internet among encamped populations. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected through a survey of 484 households, implemented by a team of trained local enumerators, 25 focus group discussions with refugee phone and non-phone users, and interviews with mobile agents and humanitarian agency staff.

The study established that 65% of refugee households in Nyarugusu have access to at least one mobile device, and 56% of adults actively use a mobile phone. Phones are seen as a priority item and households report making significant sacrifices to save for a handset.

Mobile and internet connectivity was found to have a positive impact for refugees in four key ways:

  • Communicating with loved ones: Many refugees have family who have remained in the country of origin, are living in other camps or have been resettled to a third country. Voice calls provide a fast and reliable means of communication.
  • Livelihoods: Traders and entrepreneurs participating in informal income generating activities use phones to contact suppliers, find market information and make purchases using mobile money. Mobile money is also used by the general population to receive remittances from family and friends.
  • Education: Teachers and students use connectivity in the classroom (introduced by Vodafone Foundation's INS project) to download additional content and learning materials. Adults and recent graduates also use their phones to continue their education, using applications to learn languages and watch educational videos.
  • Connectedness and wellbeing: Mobile phones are used by community leaders and community groups to distribute information and establish and maintain networks within the camp. Refugees also use their phones for entertainment and to access news and information about the wider world.

Phone use and ownership is significantly higher among men compared to women, and among Congolese refugees compared to Burundian refugees. Affordability constraints and education levels are key barriers to phone access. Other challenges include poor network quality, identification issues and concerns about safety online.

This report can also be accessed through the GSMA Mobile for Development website.