Mapping refugee media journeys
(17 May 2016)
CRESC/Open University has released a ground–breaking research report on how refugees use smartphones. It was led by Prof. Marie Gillespie and was carried out in partnership with France Medias Monde.
The research is featured in a short video
"The map Syrian refugees use to get to Europe” with a commentary by Marie as part of the BBC's multi-platform World On The Move Day.
The report, “Mapping Refugee Media Journeys: Smart Phones and Social Media Networks” explores the benefits and risks of mobile phones for refugees. It calls for action from the European Commission and Member States to fulfil their responsibilities under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to provide relevant, reliable and timely information and news for refugees.
“EU member states have failed to develop a coherent policy strategy to deal with the refugees entering Europe. This is a European policy crisis of the highest order, and as a result member states are effectively reneging on their responsibilities under the UN 1951 Refugee Charter to provide protection and safety for refugees. A vital part of that responsibility is to provide 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. Surprising as it may seem the provision of wi-fi and phone charging hot spots is now essential to access the information and news they need. It’s already happening on a small scale but refugees digital passage to Europe requires governments and news agencies to re-think their responsibilities”.
“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, and also to use social networks to gain access information news. But the smartphone also poses a 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. It’s difficult for them to know who to trust and as a result they are forced to go digitally underground where they use avatars and encrypted services to get information and news from smugglers and handlers which they have to rely on and which they often trust more than mainstream media or government information.”
“European Governments and news organisation 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”.
“Tech companies are trying to plug the gap and they have created hundreds or apps for refugees some very innovative but most are not sustainable. Quick tech fixes don’t work”.
“NGOs and organisations like the UNHCR and charities like BBC Media Action and some international broadcasters like Deutsche Welle are doing what they can but they don’t have enough resources to deliver what’s needed in this crisis and there’s a total lack of a co-ordinated effort and approach.”
“We hope that through this report that the European Commission will bring members states together 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.”
“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, or even that is favourable to refugees, that they could be seen as facilitating and encouraging them to come to Europe”.
Map sent via Whatsapp by refugee interviewed in Paris.