Mobile on the move

Refugees fleeing conflict or persecution in East Africa can travel great distances to find safer havens in neighbouring countries or beyond.

For those using mobile phones to support their journey, the majority in both Kakuma and Nakivale do so to communicate with friends and family and to gather information about their journey and the route ahead. Two thirds of refugees travelling to Nakivale also reported using their mobile phones to support navigation to the settlement. Sharif, a Somali refugee now living in Kakuma, explained how he used his mobile phone to support his journey.

“My family travelled from Somalia to Dadaab in Kenya in 2000 when I was 10. We didn’t have a mobile phone back then and my father relied on directions from locals at the villages we stopped at on the way. In 2015, I made my own way to Kakuma. My phone can just make calls and texts, but I was able to call contacts in Kakuma who helped with directions and made preparations for me before I arrived in the camp. My family also sent me money on M-Pesa which helped me buy the things I needed as I travelled”.

When asked how using their mobile phone affected their journey to Kakuma or Nakivale, over as third of respondents reported changing their planned migration route based on safety information they had received on the road ahead (Figure 1).

Figure 1: how mobile affects refugees travel during transit

Almost 50% of refugees surveyed in Nakivale stated they were able to make and receive calls throughout their journey. Less than 17% of respondents in Kakuma reported the same experience. The map in Figure 2 provides an overview of mobile phone signal coverage (minimum 2G) and major migration routes to refugee settlements and urban capitals in Uganda and Kenya. The map provides insights on the potential reason for such strong differences in mobile connectivity experienced by refugees traveling across the region.

Figure 2: signal coverage and major migration routes in Kenya, uganda and the surrounding region

Connectivity in North Eastern Kenya and many migrant sending countries is poor. Limited connectivity often follows major roads, transit points and urban hubs across the region. Such areas constitute islands of connectivity where migrants can access much-needed mobile-based services to support their journey.