What happens when there’s no connection?

In a refugee camp, a riot starts over the handout of winter clothing. Anger over the perceived unfair allocation of this aid has been simmering, and now the refugees are making their voices heard.

Nearby, Nina* watches on. She and five other charity workers are responsible for looking after around 5,000 children. With the riot growing in numbers, she gets ready to take the children to the designated safe space, away from danger. She feels prepared - she knows the procedure. But as she organises the group, she sees that the rioters are blocking her path. Plan A is no longer an option.

She takes out her phone to contact her supervisor, to find out where she can safely take the children, but it is rendered useless. There is a total network blackout. No phone connection, no internet. No connection found.

“Imagine being in that position when you have to take care of all those people, but you cannot connect with anyone else, and you don’t know where’s a safe area to take them. I had my plan B and plan C, but what if that didn’t work? What if you had to call someone else, but you couldn’t get in contact with them?” Nina says.

The network shutdown doesn’t stop the riot - people are still angry. They are now just disorganised, unable to contact others within the camp. All the shutdown does is put the children in danger. The children are scared, but Nina shields them from news of the network shutdown. She hides her own fear, and distracts them with games of hide and seek.

Aside from this responsibility, she’s worried about something else. Her parents might have heard about the riot in the camp, and she has no way to tell them she’s safe. She’s trapped, with no contact to the outside world.

Around an hour and a half later, the connection comes back. They are told it was a network failure.

“I don’t believe it was. To happen at that moment, when the rioters were trying to reach more people…” She trails off. She has no proof this was a deliberate network shutdown, and with no journalists in the area there isn’t much she can do.

It’s dark, and Nina is still at work. She’s getting the last of the children safely back to their tents, thankful that no-one was physically hurt, and knowing the situation could have worsened if the network hadn’t come back.

*Nina isn’t this woman’s real name. We’ve changed it, because she can’t openly share her story. This is just one story of someone affected by an internet shutdown. There are millions more.

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