Morcos Key

Crossing the Digital Divide: How Refugees Use Mobile Technology

Morcos Key's second visualization for RAND Art + Data explores how millions of refugees around the world rely on digital technology—particularly mobile phones—as an essential tool for survival, for communication, and for holding onto their history and identity.

The primary visual of this piece is a photograph taken by Wael Morcos in May 2009 on the shoreline of Antelias, Lebanon. In the photo, two people hug while looking across the horizon. “The expansive body of water becomes a metaphor for the crossing—the distance that many refugees travel,” Morcos says. “And the two human bodies intertwining remind us that, while technology can shorten the distance, it can never replace the warmth of an embrace.”

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Visualization by Morcos Key exploring how millions of refugees around the rely on technology—particularly mobile phones—for communication, education, and much more.

The 2019 report, Crossing the Digital Divide, includes findings from focus groups that RAND researchers conducted with displaced people in Colombia, Greece, Jordan, and the United States. These individuals explained the many ways in which mobile phones are a vital part of their lives—providing a direct line to faraway family and friends, access to health care services and information, opportunities for education and employment, and much more.

Close up of the Language category in the Crossing the Digital Divide visualization by Morcos Key.
Close up of the Health Care category in the Crossing the Digital Divide visualization by Morcos Key.
Close up of the Transportation category in the Crossing the Digital Divide visualization by Morcos Key.
Close up of the Communication category in the Crossing the Digital Divide visualization by Morcos Key.
Close up of the Education category in the Crossing the Digital Divide visualization by Morcos Key.
Close up of the Employment category in the Crossing the Digital Divide visualization by Morcos Key.
Close up of the Faith category in the Crossing the Digital Divide visualization by Morcos Key.
Close up of the Identity category in the Crossing the Digital Divide visualization by Morcos Key.

Hear the Artist's Story

Developing this piece was deeply personal for designer Wael Morcos of Morcos Key. From his own experience—not as a refugee but as a migrant—he understands what it's like to be separated from home and from those you love. Morcos tells his story in this recording:

More from RAND on Refugees and Technology

In the past two decades, the global population of forcibly displaced people has more than doubled, from 34 million in 1997 to 71 million in 2018. This growing crisis is straining host countries, the international humanitarian system and, of course, refugees themselves. RAND research examines how technology can be part of the solution.

  • A refugee mother looks at her smartphone after arriving by rubber raft from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos near the port city of Mytilene, Greece, March 9, 2016, photo by Kay Nietfeld/Picture Alliance/dpa/AP Images

    Report

    How Technology Could Better Serve Refugees and Those Who Help Them

    Millions of refugees and the agencies that assist them have turned to technology as a vital resource, but gaps remain. How can tech be developed and used more strategically in humanitarian settings?

  • A man texts on his mobile phone while waiting in line at dawn to register at Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, photo by Internews Europe/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Essay

    The Right Technology Can Help Refugees Stay Connected

    Nearly 71 million people globally are displaced by conflict and persecution. There have been some real advances in technology to help them, but innovations have often been fragmented, without a larger vision. A more strategic approach to technology could better serve their needs.

About Morcos Key

Portrait of Morcos Key

Morcos Key is the Brooklyn-based design studio of Jon(athan) Key and Wael Morcos. In their work, they often collaborate with arts and cultural institutions, nonprofits, and commercial enterprises in North America and the Middle East. Their goal is to create visual systems that demonstrate how thoughtful conversation and formal expression make for impactful design.

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artplusdata@rand.org

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