How do Syrian refugees use social media and technology?

Does anyone know of research on or other writings about the use of social media and other technology by Syrian refugees?

The contents of a 34-year-old refugee's bag: Anonymous, 34, from Syria “I had to leave behind my parents and sister in Turkey. I thought, if I die on this boat, at least I will die with the photos of my family near me.” Money (wrapped to protect it from water), Old phone (wet and unusable) and new smart phone, Phone chargers and headphones (plus extra battery charger), 16GB flash drive (containing family photos).

The contents of a 34-year-old refugee’s bag, his sole possessions after fleeing. He carries a smart phone and a flash drive of family photos.

It’s clear many refugees are using their smartphones and social media to survive, communicate and plan their journey. This article from the NY Times on August 25 is interesting, and talks about how important smart phones, GPS maps, solar chargers and cash SIM cards bought in each new country have been to refugees. It also explains how traffickers advertise their services in Facebook groups. For instance, it cites the “Arabic-language Facebook group Trafficking to Europe” but also groups that I think are for individuals helping each other, like (again Arabic language) “Smuggling Into the E.U.,” with 23,953 members, “How to Emigrate to Europe,” and  “Smuggle Yourself to Europe Without a Trafficker”. If you’re still in Syria, there is, for example, “a popular Facebook page in Syria reporting real-time counts of mortar rounds falling on Damascus and maps of their locations.” The Syrian refugees are largely middle class and well-educated and have tech to a greater extent than many other refugees, as I understand it. If you or I had to flee from a war, we would no doubt bring our phones too.

I’ve also seen this story about a group of Syrian men posting photos to Instagram along their journey to Europe. In the images shown there, the absence of women and children is striking, although finding one of the mens’ Instagram account (which links to his Facebook) that might say more about the journalists’ selection than about the photos actually taken. I think the photo he posted to Facebook of Angela Merkel drinking beer means he arrived safely in Germany. Or maybe it just means he’s really glad to have a beer after all he’s been through. Google translate is only moderately helpful…


There are other significant uses of technology going on as well. The UN High Commission for Refugees wrote a news story in 2013 about how they use technology to help refugees in camps: Biometric scanning of refugees on arrival, and you get money based on an iris scan after that – which might be useful if they lose their other ID, but also obviously has far-reaching consequences in terms of surveillance and control not just while they are receiving aid but in the future. Also, the UN has handed out 120,000 SIM cards that I think, from reading the story, might only allow users to RECEIVE information messages and call the UNHCR information line. And there is satellite surveillance of the refugee camps.

Here in Norway there is a lot of activity on Facebook groups like Refugees Welcome to Norway, which now has almost 80,000 members (in a country of just 5 million that’s a lot)  and there are also lots of local groups which coordinate donations of food and warm clothing and more to newly arrived refugees. I’m sure other countries have similar groups.

I have tried to search Instagram to find more actual examples of how people are using images and status updates to document/share/reflect upon/whatever their time as refugees, but tags like “syria” or “refugees” don’t do a lot of good. Quite possibly hardly any refugees are using social media in this way. And of course, Syrian refugees actually using Instagram would write in Arabic so my searching in English is likely useless.

If you know more about this, and especially if you know of anyone doing research on it, I would love to learn more.

07. September 2015 by Jill
Categories: social media | 17 comments

Comments (17)

  1. Pingback: How Refugees Use Social Media To Survive – Merium Kazmi

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