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.

17 thoughts on “How do Syrian refugees use social media and technology?

  1. Moda

    Syrian refugees are definitely right! Telecomunication is the most important thing to survive, nowadays. Their voices can reach to the goverments and politics by using social media.

  2. nerina

    I am currently doing my PhD and my research focuses on your exact question. Hopefully, soon enough we’ll have data to share 🙂

    1. Sheikha Albattashi

      Hi Nerina , are you finish your research in how Syrian refuges use social media?

    2. Courtney

      Hi Nerina – I am a Masters student in Toronto and I am looking for information access and use of smartphones by refugees. Do you have any information you could share? Thank you!

  3. Koen Leurs

    Dear Jill, I’m starting a new 3 year project called ‘young connected migrants’ ‘Comparing digital practices of young asylum seekers and expatriates in the Netherlands.’ from feb 2016 onwards.

    I’ve posted the abstract of the project proposal on my blog, see

    Would be great to keep in touch,



  4. Rosa

    Dear Jill,
    a fellow student and me from the University of Copenhagen are currently conducting research for our MA thesis about social media practices of Syrian refugees and expats in Berlin.
    We would very much appreciate to get in touch with researchers and other students doing similar research.
    All the best from Berlin,

    1. Fayez

      Dear Rosa,

      I’m starting a research about Syrians refugees and social media and would like discuss some ideas with you.

  5. Rosa

    Btw: in Berlin and Germany there are many Facebook groups where Syrians exchange information and seek advise about issues related to their new lives in Germany. There’s groups for young Syrians, for Syrian engineers, for Syrian artists, etc. Particularly one group stands out (all the people I spoke to so far have mentioned it). Syrian house Germany (syrisches Haus Deutschland), which started as Syrian house Berlin and today has more than 120.000 members. I have found similar Facebook groups now for different cities in Germany (Dortmund, Bremen), then Syrian house Belgium, Scotland, USA, in Britain though with far less group members.

    I am also in contact with Maziad (whose Facebook posts you have linked) – there’s quite some articles about him and he is working as a journalist himself. If you’re interested, I could put you two in contact.

    1. Christine Ayad

      I am doing an undergrad research paper on this topic and I would love to get in contact with Maziad. Do you think you could connect us? That would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Judith Zijlstra


    I have just published an article on the use of smart phones by Syrians, Iranians and Afghans during the irregular migration journey to Europe, together with Dr. Ilse van Liempt.

    It will be published soon in the International Journal of Migration and Border studies but I can already sent you the accepted version per email. Please send me an email if you are interested:

    1. Robert Schinke

      Hi Judith, would it be possible for you to share this piece with me? I am working on a new project in Canada, where wireless devices will be part an acculturation study with newcomers.

      1. Judith Zijlstra

        Dear Robert,
        Of course. The article is almost published, but if you need it soon I can send you the pre-print version.
        Can you email me on the email address below? I then have your email address and can reply with attaching the article


  7. Veronica

    Hey, I’m a student studying in Savannah GA, at the Savannah College of Art and Design and I’m doing a project for my school where we have to design a business to serve refugees in Germany but to also make a profit. Basically for our project I want to ask refugees or people that know them: would refugees be interested in house cleaning jobs or handy man jobs? would they be interested in a website to help them get house cleaning jobs? Would they rather have an internship for no pay for jobs with higher standards, like IT, medical, or the business spectrum? Lots of Syrian refugees have degrees, and obviously already had good jobs and a good lifestyle. If there was an website to provide jobs for refugees what types of jobs should it have on there? Should it be for Germans as the customer or other refugees? Please if you have the time, help with answers for research for this project. Thank you!

  8. Philip Tangermann

    I’m writing my dissertation on Syrian refugee migration networks and how social media influence the structure and use of these networks, as well as how these new networks influence migration patterns. Very interesting but not much written on it..

  9. […] Rettberg, professor of digital culture at the University of Bergen, talks about the role of information communication technology, particularly smartphones and social media, in facilitating the treacherous journeys that Syrian […]

  10. Jumana Khoja

    Hi, I am doing my Masters in media and communication studies and currently working on my thesis on the syrian diaspora in sweden and the digital media use for integration.

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