Accessing the right information in crisis situations can be crucial

This article appeared in the last newsletter distributed by the Canterbury Refugee and Resettlement and Resource Centre (CRRC)- formerly the Canterbury Refugee Council. In this article Lucia Dore and Melisande Middleton, founder of the Center for Internet & Media Ethics (CIME), discuss how information flows matter in crisis situations, even in small, far away countries like New Zealand.

During the civil war in Afghanistan (1989-92) Iran opened its borders to refugees but not many people knew about this, cites an Afghan familiar with the situation. “Many people fled to there and sought safe haven and temporary education for their kids. Many didn’t hear about it and stayed and I know many people who lost their loved ones because they didn’t know that Iran had finally opened the border.”

This situation shows how important it is for refugees to get access to the right information at the right time.

In New Zealand, the Internet might help refugees access information about the countries from which they flee, but they still question the truth and accuracy of the information they receive.

One Ethiopian refugee, Nesanet Kassa, says that because there’s virtually no coverage in New Zealand of the Ethiopian situation she, like most Ethiopians in the country, receive their news from independent TV channels financed by Ethiopians abroad, mainly in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, and London in the United Kingdom.

Those who run these media outlets tend to be Ethiopian diaspora and interviews are usually conducted with people who have made several appearances on a channel,whichhelpstogivecredibilitytothesituation, she explains.

“Refugees with family back home can’t rely on the government [to give factual information],” Kassa says. “It is not trustworthy,” she says, adding: ”It is very difficult to get information from a distance”.

Her dream solution would be to get information from an independent media within Ethiopia. There would be no government restrictions, she explains. Such a solution is not yet in sight given the country’s strictly censored regime.

One refugee, Oliver Andrian, who arrived in New Zealand from the Middle East about five years ago,

says he receives his information from international channels, as well as

from other human rights activists across the Middle East. He might also get information from Facebook friends, and randomly browse the Internet.

It is important for him to hear a source in person, thereby allowing him to more readily assess the credibility of the information, he says. If information comes via emails he asks for more details which he compares with other sources.

For the most part, he seeks out information that will help him improve human rights in the region. It is important to be able to assess the credibility of any information, excluding anything that is not helpful, he says.

The son of an Afghan refugee (one of the Tampa boat people who came here in 2001), Gul Agha Alizadah says that refugees get their information largely through their ethnic community leaders “or other friends or community leaders of the same ethnicity”.

“Often times, they heavily rely on interpreters for receiving and comprehending information. Refugees find it difficult to access up-to-date information as it is not always directly and in a timely manner communicated to them,” he adds.

This in itself can lead to problems as refugees cannot always trust the information they get as it may get ‘misinterpreted from English (or other relevant languages) to their native tongue. Refugees also get a lot of their information through ‘word of mouth’ and this can get distorted or misinterpreted along the way”, Alizadah notes.

Moreover, because refugees are older and are computer illiterate, they often have difficulty getting accurate information – particularly as it pertains to immigration rules – a point which is frequently cited as an issue to be dealt with.

Melisande Middleton is the founder, Center for Internet & Media Ethics (CIME) and aYoung Global Leader (YGL), at the World Economic Forum. Lucia Dore is a financial journalist and editor.

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Wednesday, 17 August 2022