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Skype aids communications for remote UN refugee workers

Low bandwidth, cheap calls on offerrnrn

Humanitarian workers in the most remote parts of the world are being given a low-cost way to communicate with colleagues, friends and families as a result of a partnership between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Skype.

Skype has developed a bespoke, low-bandwidth version of its software for deployment across 120 locations served by UNHCR staff members around the world.

The UNHCR version of Skype will provide both free and low-cost voice and video calls over the Internet, even when accessed through low connectivity networks. This will enable communications for humanitarian workers in some of the world’s most remote postings on the one hand, whilst lowering the cost of calling home on the other, as workers have to pay for personal calls.

The new software has already been tested successfully in Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan, and is now available to over 1,000 staff stationed in remote locations in countries like Algeria, Bangladesh, Chad, Congo, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

By the end of 2010, Skype and UNHCR plan for that to grow to over 2,000 staff. And by the end of 2011, the number connected is expected to reach over 3,000 – 80 per cent of UNHCR staff in hardship locations worldwide.

Skype and UNHCR are also exploring the development of a communications system that will benefit refugees more directly. The system aims to allow refugees to reach family and friends across borders, and will also be used to facilitate protection operations, including repatriation, resettlement and family reunification.

“Skype has removed some of the most challenging barriers to communications that we experience in these locations”, said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “This will benefit not only UNHCR staff and their families at home but, potentially, the tens of millions of refugees and other displaced people in the world today.”

Skype has also started a campaign to increase public awareness of UNHCR operations and help raise additional funds. The campaign will deliver messages via Skype to connected users, and encourage them to make a contribution using an online donate button.