Refugee hotspots provide Internet access to undocumented migrants and refugees in the Netherlands using a portable device hacked using Raspberry Pi 3 and 3G dongles to provide connectivity. The open-source project was an initiative pioneered by members of the Internet Society (ISOC) chapter in the Netherlands. The chapter also wired areas frequented by undocumented migrants and provided them with fixed-line broadband access in addition to the portable devices. The hotspot provides a rate-limited connection at 50 kilobits per second (kbps), funded through donations.
The crises in the Middle East and North Africa have led to an unprecedented flow of refugees into the European Union. More than 65.3 million people globally have been forcibly displaced, with a majority of them still in the process of seeking asylum. Many of them live in camps, while others, especially in the Netherlands, have organized themselves into urban squatter spaces and slums.
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(people per sq.km)
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|Median household income
||Individuals using the Internet (%)
(Mean years of schooling) (UNDP, 2013)
||Individuals using the Internet by Gender (%) (ITU, 2016)
A Refugee hotspot is a device hacked using a Raspberry Pi and 3G dongles that can provide temporary, rate-limited Internet connectivity to asylum seekers on the move. Members of the ISOC chapter in the Netherlands developed the solutions after taking two approaches to connect asylum seekers upon themselves. The first approach provides wired Internet access in semi-permanent locations where a number of asylum seekers gather, and the second involves the creation of a device that can provide access to refugees on the move. Two locations have been provided with wired broadband access by the ISOC chapter so far.
To build the device, the ISOC chapter teamed up with the local free and open-source software (FOSS) and hacker communities to build an open-source solution. The requirements of the device included portability, sturdiness, shareable bandwidth, security, and a landing page for refugees with basic instructions on the nature and use of the connection. Raspberry Pis with Debian was chosen as the way forward at the first hackathon to address the issue after considering other options. During construction, a Raspberry Pi 3 device with its in-built Wi-Fi module was released, and the developers adopted the same for the final device.
The device is 3-D-printable, and its source code is freely available on GitHub. Two such hotspots have already been deployed in the field, with more being distributed to refugee collectives. The connection is rate-limited at 50 kbps, and the devices are funded by donations. The connection is secure and free from surveillance as well.
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||ISOC Netherlands, NL Hackers
NL FOSS community
The hotspots have served as key collectivizing forces for refugees. After deploying the first two hotspots, refugees have come together and rallied around the presence of a hotspot for their use, and found common cause with the squatter movement in the Netherlands. A consequence of this process has been the settling of refugees in specific locations, which can then be wired conventionally.
The hotspot also functions as a platform for expression by providing access to free connectivity for refugees. The exact numbers of those connecting via the hotspot is deliberately not monitored in order to protect these vulnerable populations. Future goals include connecting with collectives in Germany and Belgium in order to trial these hotspots on a larger scale.
Administrative hurdles – Asylum processing center administration proved to be a major challenge when setting up the wired broadband connectivity at the centers, as they believed that it would lead to more squatting by asylum seekers and overcrowding of centers.
High cost – The high cost of distributing subscriber identification modules (SIM) cards to refugees was a key challenge that shaped the approach taken by the creators of the hotspot and the local ISOC chapter.
Innovative solutions can help refugees
– Internet connectivity for refugees poses a unique set of challenges that often require out-of-the-box and creative solutions. Refugee hotspot is one such instance of an out-of-the-box solution that has
Connectivity as a gateway to inclusion
– Connectivity provisioning through hotspots can be a key mobilizing force for asylum seekers, highlighting the essential character of connectivity within these populations’ everyday lives.
Project website: refugeehotspot.net