The Complex Layers of Cyberculture and Refugees

Refugees charge their phones at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary.

For my research project, I am interested in looking at the complex layers of cyberculture and refugees. I’ll be looking at how refugees participate in cybercultures, ranging from recording abuse in detention centres to using Google Maps to make their way through Europe and tracking their journey through social media.

“Alvand, 18, from Syria takes a selfie with his friends as they walk along a railway track after crossing into Hungary from the border with Serbia last week. Cellphones are widely available in Syria for relatively little money. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)”

I will also be extending my research to how countries are using technologies to monitor and control the movement of refugees. The current crisis has lead to many radical discussions and actions towards ‘monitoring’ refugees. This extends to the EU maritime agency using drones to monitor refugee boats and the European Commission using the International Space Station for “border surveillance“. The discussions and actions that are currently in place will only continue and expand as the refugee crisis continues, so it will be interesting to look at what this will mean for the future as well.

Finally, I think it’s important to look at representations of ‘the refugee experience’ in comparison to the diverse realities. In the West there is this notion that ‘refugee’ is synonymous with being poverty stricken and/or having no access to technology.


Screenshot 2016-03-20 14.11.43

The idea that a refugee cannot own a smartphone is one example that shows there is a disconnect between the representations and realities of refugee experiences. I believe this disconnect plays a critical role in the Western construction of refugees as a collective ‘other’ and am interested to research what the connotations of this disconnect means for refugees, i.e. the hostility they receive.


Alter L. 2015. People are outraged to see refugees with smartphones. They shouldn’t be. Mother Nature Network, available at:

Butler J. 2016. Refugee Children On Nauru Release Another Video, Huffington Post, available at:

Hakim D. 2016. Surveillance: In space no one can see you watching for refugees, AFR Weekend, available at:

Laurent O. 2015. See How Refugees Use Selfies to Document Their Journey, Time, available at:

McHugh J. 2015. Refugee Crisis Europe 2015: How Syrians Are Using Smartphones To Travel Through Western Europe, International Business Times, available at:

Stupp C. 2016. EU maritime agency gets ready to use drones to monitor refugee boats,, available at:

About intersectionalalien

Hi hello people of earth/space/cyberspace, intersectional alien here. I’m still trying to figure out my place on this earth. I like intersectional feminism, feminism in popular culture, LGBTQ+, refugee rights, veganism, mental health, nihilism, travelling, unlearning institutional conditioning, good tunes and consuming and creating stories.
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8 Responses to The Complex Layers of Cyberculture and Refugees

  1. er663 says:

    Hey Charmaine, I think this is really great research idea as it is such an important and current issue in today’s society. Technology and social media is definitely having an impact on political movements and I think it can be argued that these effects can be positive and negative. Like you mentioned, with refugees actively recording their experiences, society is shown a first hand account of these people lives and the atrocities they often face. I’m not sure if you have seen them, but The Guardian has done a series of reports on information, audio recordings and footage smuggled out of Manu Island recorded by refugees being held there ( This has been an extremely powerful tool in bringing awareness to the treatment of refugees by the Australian Government and might be an interesting case study for you to look into.

  2. Hey I enjoyed reading your post, you raised some good ideas and the refugee crisis is certainly a pressing issue. I’ll be interested to follow your blog, because its such a complicated issue and there’s definitely a lot to it.

    Honestly I was pretty suprised seeing the photos and even more so the statistics about the phone use amongst refugees. Until now I’ve definitely been part of Western society that didn’t expect refugees to own smartphones.
    I think while many of us take our phones for granted and as a luxury they are a necessity for refugees as you’ve talked about which is also expanded on by this CBC article,

    One key point that one of the twitter posts you reposted was that it is often the middle class that can afford to flee that are fleeing these conflicts and also Marianne Elliot’s tweet, stating how they are fleeing from war, not the 18th century.

    It is definitely important that refugees have smartphones, so that they have means of navigation which is obviously important given there circumstances of trying to find refuge. Also that they have means of communication, between friends and family and also authorities, when they have no physical address.

    There has certainly been an interesting construction of refugees as an ‘other’, which doesn’t bode well when mass amounts of people are trying to flee from civil war. This theses by John M. Cartner explores this idea of the representation of the refugee in western society and i think really touches on some key points about the Australia’s previous policies regarding refugees and how that informs our views now.

    One last article I think is worth looking at is a UNHCR article which discusses the implementation of a social media and sms outreach amongst refugees.

  3. Pingback: Structuring Refugees & Cyberculture | charmainelily

  4. caitlinc95 says:

    Refugees are a very important and current topic to be exploring. I like how you have integrated cyberculture and refugees as it is something I have never seen in relation to each other before but now thinking about it, it seems so obvious in it’s connection. I think social media has played a very important role in raising awareness on refugees, what they are going through and how they are treated. Take for example the image of Aylan Kurdi’s dead body washed ashore, that spread through Facebook like wildfire. The image reached so many people so quickly and though very tragic, it was a great reminder of the danger families are taking to flee their countries in search of a better life. Another great example is the Free the Children NAURU Facebook page that has allowed children in detention centres to connect with people in Australia. I’ll be keeping up with all your research developments as this is a very interesting and engaging topic!

  5. I really love the topic you’ve chosen to focus your research on! Looking at the complexity of how refugees interact and fit in with cyberculture is a really great way to examine how cyberculture is affecting the struggles of the modern world. It used to occur to me that cyberculture and Internet access seems like a first world issue, especially when we focus on stuff like the Internet of Things and iOS vs. Android etc. However it’s becoming more aware to me that cyberculture definitely affects even the developing world – regions and individuals who are affected by poverty and crisis. You’re looking into almost every aspect of refugees and cyberculture that I could possibly think of so keep up the good work, I’m looking forward to seeing how your project progresses.

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