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Mapping refugee media journeys

19 May 20160 comments

For modern refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, smartphones have become as important as food or shelter, according to new research.

iPhonesPhones are emerging as important tools in allowing refugees access to secure information relating to protection and safety, particularly in Europe, the research says.

The report entitled “Mapping Refugee Media Journeys: Smart Phone and Social Media Networks” is game changing research that begins to fill the research void in investigation the possibilities of the relationship between refugees and smartphones.

Report author, Professor Marie Gillespie has investigated current apps such as Google’s Crisis Info Hub app and the Welcome 2 Europe website, as well as local networks the Village of All-together.

She commends their unique value in providing “timely and reliable information and news to help them find safe and legal routes to escape and to travel to safety, as well as to access medical and other humanitarian resources”.

“Smartphones are seen to be as important as food and shelter,” Professor Gillespie said.

“Syrian refugees are often highly digitally literate and the mobile phone is an essential tool on their journey – helping them to navigate a highly risky and unpredictable journey, often to unknown and/or changing destinations. It helps them to keep in touch with friends and family on their way,” she said.

Access to wi-fi and phone charging hot spots are indispensable in a refugee’s journey, according to the report, and much more needs to be done to ensure refugees gain adequate access to potentially life-changing information and news.

While the uses of digital resources for refugees are growing exponentially, according to the report, most are “inadequately resourced and unsustainable”. These ‘quick fixes’ result in harmful consequences when the information they provide is false or unreliable, states the report.

Having little sources for sufficient information forces the refugees into a precarious position, according to the report. News circulated on social media predominately by people smugglers or handlers is “endangering them and exacerbating an already dire situation,” she said.

“These initiatives need to be monitored from multiple perspectives: those of refugee individuals and groups, NGOs, funders, locals as well as official and government agencies. There is always room for development in this very rapidly changing landscape,” she said.

The smartphone poses a real threat, the “digital traces that refugees leave behind them make them highly vulnerable to surveillance by state and official authorities as well as to exploitation by smugglers,” she said.

The reports calls upon the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to pressure the European Commission to “orchestrate a coherent strategy and sustainable resource base to provide timely news and information for refugees in their home countries, on their journeys and, above all, when they arrive in Europe based on our recommended best practice principles.”

European Governments must manage this threat, according to the report, and they are failing to do so, largely due to a fear they would be perceived to be facilitating attempts to seek asylum in Europe.

“The refugee situation has become so politicised, not least due to the Referendum on Europe, that news organisations, including the BBC, fear that if they provide news or information for refugees… that they could be seen as facilitating and encouraging them to come to Europe,” Professor Gillespie said.

She said European Governments and news organisations are not putting out timely, up-to-date information and news for refugees to help to make their journeys as safe and as dignified as possible, and that would help them to gain access to legal, medical and other social services.

Published by the Open University, together with France Medias Monde, the report concludes by demanding tangible action from the European Commission and Members states “to provide relevant, reliable and timely information and news for refugees”.

 

Chloe Tucker
AMES Australia Staff Writer