As we mark World Radio Day, we look at the vital role that radio plays in UNHCR’s refugee relief work. From sharing information in crisis situations to broadcasting health and safety messages in refugee camps, the humble radio remains a communications lifeline for UNHCR field staff and the displaced people in their care.

Under the rule of armed militants for more than two years, the people of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, have been in a virtual media blackout with almost no access to accurate and impartial information. Since an operation to retake the city was launched in October 2016, thousands of families have managed to flee to UNHCR-run displacement camps in northern Iraq.


Displaced Iraqis in Hasanham camp wait to receive their radio sets as part of an initiative funded by UNHCR.

Image © UNHCR

Free radios are a trustworthy source of news and information for people like Noor who are fleeing the ongoing conflict in Mosul, Iraq.

Image © UNHCR

As well as providing displaced Iraqis with emergency shelter and relief, UNHCR has been working with media organisations to give them a trustworthy source of news and information. The initiative is supported by BBC Media Action and Radio Nawa, a public radio service which broadcasts in Arabic and Kurdish. Transmitters have been installed in the camps and UNHCR and its partners have been distributing radio kits to families, allowing them to receive broadcasts, participate in talk-back and make informed decisions about their futures.

“UNHCR is very pleased to play a role in this initiative”, said UNHCR’s Representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo. “People have been living in an information blackout for more than two years. This project can help them realise that their voices will not go unheard.”

Kowsar is working as an intern at Radio Gargaar, a camp based radio program for the Dadaab refugee community. “I love informing the community,” Kowsar told UNHCR. “I report from Dadaab's Dagahaley camp and also help moderate shows in the studio.”

Image © UNHCR/Silja Ostermann

On the air in Malawi

When Malawi started receiving a refugee influx from Mozambique in 2015, UNHCR and its partners used radio to keep the new arrivals informed of their rights and the services available in the camp. They also broadcast important health, gender-based violence and sanitation messages to refugees.

With UNHCR’s support, the Luwani community-run radio station produces multilingual programmes for entertainment and education. It has become a hub for both the refugees and host communities and an essential part of daily life in the refugee transit site.

Refugee children from Mozambique tune in to the community radio station at the Kapise transit site in Malawi.

Image © UNHCR/ Lucy Beck

Reaching women in Nigeria

Radio was the chosen medium for UNHCR field staff in Nigeria during last year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Forced from their homes by conflict, thousands of vulnerable women were sheltering in hard-to-reach places within the conflict zone.

For the campaign organisers, radio provided a safe and cost effective way to communicate empowering and potentially life-saving messages on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) treatment and prevention. Through multilingual broadcasts presented by both men and women, they were able to reach displaced populations in Borno state, along with host communities and first responders such as doctors, the military and police.

The broadcasts included discussions on SGBV along with information about support services including medical treatment, counselling, HIV prevention and legal redress.

“Without radio, it would not have been possible to reach everyone – displaced women, host communities, and other field staff including doctors, police and law-enforcement officers.” said Rehema Miro, a UNHCR protection officer in Nigeria.

With 9000 staff working in 128 countries, UNHCR also uses broadcast media like radio for information sharing between its teams and operating partners. Radio plays an important and specific role in emergency communication and in the coordination of disaster relief.

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