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Connecting one of Europe’s largest refugee settlements to the internet

22 Jun 2021Vodafone Foundation news
3 minute read

Vodafone Foundation has deployed a team of Instant Network Emergency Response volunteers to provide refugees and asylum seekers with free Wi-Fi at the Mavrovouni emergency site on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Volunteers from Vodafone Greece, Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands and Group are working with partners to deploy Instant Network technology to provide high-speed connectivity at the emergency site, which currently accommodates approximately 5,000 people. As part of the mission they also plan to expand these services to Chios island in the coming weeks.

Nearly 2,000 people have already connected to the internet thanks to the connectivity services deployed by the team using Vodafone Foundation’s award-winning programme. Over 1.2TB of data has been transferred.

For those forced to leave everything behind, the internet can be a lifeline to access vital information and services, as well as connect with loved ones. According to Andrea Wegener, Director for International Development at EuroRelief, “Wi-Fi connectivity has always been one of the key-problems that we worry about… without internet, they [refugees] cannot keep in contact with their family and search for information online.”

The team of Vodafone employee volunteers arrived in the settlement on Friday 11th June, carrying 300kg of Vodafone Foundation equipment, including Instant Wi-Fi, Instant Charge and additional communications technology.

Instant Network volunteers connect Mavrovouni emergency settlement 2

Harm Kanters, a volunteer member of the Instant Network team from Vodafone Ziggo in the Netherlands, shared his first-hand experience:

“It felt very strange to be here at first. This is a situation you know exists, but when you see it live, it seems to be very different. I stood on top of a hill to overlook it… I saw the hundreds of tents with UNHCR tarpaulins drawn over them.

“On the first day we built up the main internet connection. This is immediately secured by means of a Firewall - with this we ensure that users are protected against spyware, ransomware and all kinds of other internet threats. This central equipment is housed in a safe container, located next to the central police command post, so it feels very secure.”

With the exception of ten diesel generators, the site is not connected to the island’s power grid, and the ground is too hard to lay cables. Harm and his team therefore identified strategic places in the camp from which to hang beam transmitting radios, which increase the range of the internet signal to connect people across the settlement.

Harm added: “We always look for a compromise between reaching as many people as possible and a safe, high place with the proximity of a power point.”

Instant Network volunteers connect Mavrovouni emergency settlement 3

Since 2011, Vodafone Foundation’s Instant Network, has provided life-saving assistance in over 23 emergencies around the world connecting tens of thousands of people, providing 60TB of data and enabling 68 million minutes’ worth of phone calls. This includes the connection of 86,000 devices across 9 settlements for refugees in Greece alone since 2015.

Instant Network volunteers connect Mavrovouni emergency settlement

Instant WIFI, the Foundation’s latest innovation in a growing portfolio of products, allows up to 500 people to simultaneously access the internet within an 80-metre radius. For a larger deployment, extra access points extend the capacity and the area of coverage to 1,500 users at the same time across 10,000m2.

The Instant Network equipment also includes a portable 4G network that packs into three 32-kilogram boxes, and Instant Charge, a durable and portable outdoor mobile charger that can charge 48 devices simultaneously.

Vodafone Foundation continue to monitor the situation and improve services where possible, to ensure free Wi-Fi helps to improve conditions both for those hosted in the settlement and for the agencies working on the ground.

Learn more about Vodafone Foundation’s Instant Network programme

  • Connectivity
  • Digital Society
  • Empowering People
  • SDG 11
  • SDG 9
  • SDGs
  • Vodafone Foundation
  • Greece

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