Refugee engagement with cyberculture is varied according to ability to access devices and networks and utilise said access. As shown in Engage, it is clear that engagement with cyberculture can be critical in many situations; travelling by foot or by sea, being standstill in a refugee camp or detention centre and through to resettlement in a location with an unknown social structure, culture and language.

Social media and the public sphere play a key role for refugees to map their path to a country they’ve heard is safe and access much needed resources along the way, such as food & shelter and wifi & charging ports. In fact, the public sphere has actively worked to transform the nature and facilitation of migration networks. Migration networks are built on social capital, which involves communications with known persons (strong ties) and unknown persons (weak ties), and helps lower the costs and risks that refugees may encounter, as well as strengthening their ability to actually seek asylum. Social media has allowed for weak ties to evolve, meaning refugees have access to a bigger pool of information. It is important, however, to note that reliance on weak ties can mean facing a higher risk of receiving unrealistic or false information.

The internet is an open information source, which is especially important for refugees. Internet access to the public sphere allows refugees to share decentralised information instantly, relatively inexpensively and on a widespread level. As they are considered illegal persons in many countries, they cannot request information or assistance through regulated immigrant services. Social media therefore allows for refugees to “form an underground communication structure” (Dekker R. & Engbersen G. 2012), where they can engage with the much needed information on their road to seeking asylum and resettling.

In terms of utilising this access, it is also important to be wary of the digital divide. This refers to inequality not only in terms of internet access, but also ability to utilise access. This inequality is affected by “socio-economic status, level of education, urban/rural residence and age can cause significant differences”(Dekker R. & Engbersen G. 2012). Censorship is another aspect that affects the digital divide, as shown on Nauru where Facebook and general internet access has been banned and censored by the Nauru & Australian government. In Za’atari refugee camp this digital divide also exists and is heavily influenced by the social systems, the economy of the camp and the temporary setup of the camp. As stated in Engage, mobile phone access is not considered a basic need for refugees, which also plays a role in creating a digital divide.

This divide has been recognised and training courses have been implemented in various refugee camps and urban resettlements (such as Za’atari, Niamey, Niger and New Zealand) as a way to close this divide. This not only highlights the importance of access but also the recognition by non refugees as to the importance of access and being able to utilise it.

Co-ordinated Action

In September 2015, hundreds of refugees engaged in co-ordinated action from three separate locations: Budapest train station, a refugee holding camp near the Serbian border and Biscke, a town outside of Budapest. These groups of refugees were lead to believe Hungarian transport would take them to the Austrian border, but they were instead lead to camps.

Having an instant online connection with each other allowed groups of refugees to co-ordinate a collective march in the direction of Austria. Those who were not part of this movement were able to instantly view what was happening and join the mass movement.

A Lifeline At Sea

Syrian refugee, Firas, discusses his first hand account of travelling by boat from Turkey to Greece. This heartbreaking story highlights the importance of mobile phone access to locate and direct one’s self to safety, or least have a final communication with loved ones.

We were exactly between Turkey and Greece. I know because I checked the GPS on my phones…I sent a Whatsapp message giving my GPS and asking them to help us. I also sent my family a message with my GPS and explained the situation but said ‘don’t worry, even though the weather is bad, we’ll make it across’.

The economy of Za’atari

A 2015 study sample of mobile phone use in the camp found that 89% of refugees owned a mobile handset and 85% owned at least one SIM card (it is common to have multiple SIM cards to access different carriers and/or avoid surveillance from the Syrian government. Multiple SIM card use is also reflective of refugee camp context, with it’s lack of network infrastructure, lack of reliability of networks etc. 

As refugees have to earn money to pay for mobile technology and services through several means, the economy of the camp has a strong focus on electronics. Shops in camps sell wifi routers, used laptops, mobile handsets and SIM cards. There are 3000 refugee-owned and operated shops within the camp, generating more than 10 million euros a month.

Reference list:

Aljazeera Europe. 2015. Hungary offers buses to transfer refugees to Austria, Aljazeera, available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/hungary-offers-buses-transfer-refugees-austria-150904194534458.html

Australian Human Rights Commission, Immigration detention statistics, available at: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/immigration-detention-statistics

[author unknown]. 2015. Mobile phone app helps Syrian refugees settle in Turkey, Euro News, available at: http://www.euronews.com/2015/02/10/mobile-phone-app-helps-syrian-refugees-settle-in-turkey/

BBC News Trending. 2015. The Syrian refugee who says: ‘Don’t come to Sweden… or think carefully about it’ – BBC Trending, Youtube, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAJcy5k4rb4

Butler J. 2016. Refugee Children On Nauru Release Another Video, Huffington Post, available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/01/21/refugee-children-nauru-video_n_9033174.html

Dearden L. 2015. Syrian refugee tells how he survived boat sinking in waters where Aylan Kurdi drowned, Independent, available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/syrian-refugee-tells-how-he-survived-boat-sinking-in-waters-where-aylan-kurdi-drowned-10484607.html

Free the Children NAURU, Facebook, available at: https://www.facebook.com/Free-the-Children-NAURU-839867502797443/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

Free the Children NAURU, WordPress, available at: https://freethechildrennauru.com/

Lee A. 2015. Aussies Are Talking To Child Asylum Seekers Being Held On Nauru, Buzzfeed News, available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexlee/child-refugees-on-nauru-facebook-page?utm_term=.ahRlv5P00m#.exnVO3Gdd1

Maitland C & Xu, Ying A. 2015 Social Informatics Analysis of Refugee Mobile Phone Use: A Case Study of Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp (March 31, 2015). TPRC 43: The 43rd Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy Paper. Available at SSRN: http://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=142095081069091013107126087078120113014042095000089091121086087094073004121024003092119034022008009024050126000078104002113031006007037073081013100125095116025098054049080103079083111082122016118005028074090069122031065067117096107087088105100026115&EXT=pdf

McHugh J. 2015. Refugee Crisis Europe 2015: How Syrians Are Using Smartphones To Travel Through Western Europe, International Business Times, available at: http://www.ibtimes.com/refugee-crisis-europe-2015-how-syrians-are-using-smartphones-travel-through-western-2152496

McLaughlin D. 2015. Mass migration guided by mobiles and social media, The Irish Times (reported from Budapest), available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/mass-migration-guided-by-mobiles-and-social-media-1.2344662

Pizzi M. 2015. Isolated in Zaatari camp, Syrian refugees find ways to get online, Aljazeera America, available at: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/7/16/internet-access-zaatari-camp.html

Powell A. 2015. Wi-Fi ‘Saves’ Residents in Jordan Refugee Camp, The Borgen Project, available at: http://borgenproject.org/wi-fi-jordan-refugee-camp/

Williams A. 2015. Stop shaming Syrian refugees for using cellphones, The Daily Dot, available at: http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/syria-refugees-cell-phone-use/

Witty P. 2015. See How Smartphones Have Become a Lifeline for Refugees, Time, available at: http://time.com/4062120/see-how-smartphones-have-become-a-lifeline-for-refugees/


Rafi:ki. 2015. rafi:ki / mixtape 015 / instrumental hiphop / trip-hop, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0), Soundcloud, available at https://soundcloud.com/rafi-ki/rafiki-mixtape-015-instrumental-hiphop-triphop

Footage in order of appearance:

All footage of detainees on Nauru accessed from Save The Children Nauru Facebook Page, 2016, available at: https://www.facebook.com/Free-the-Children-NAURU-839867502797443/?fref=ts

BBC News Trending. 2015. The Syrian refugee who says: ‘Don’t come to Sweden… or think carefully about it’ – BBC Trending, Youtube, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAJcy5k4rb4

BBC Urdu. 2016. Syria Conflict : Aerial view of Zaatari refugee camp, Youtube, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMDObKVf2VE

The National. 2015. Inside Zaatari Refugee Camp, Youtube, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PptL6TjSIJ4

BBC News Trending. 2015. The Syrian refugee who says: ‘Don’t come to Sweden… or think carefully about it’ – BBC Trending, Youtube, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAJcy5k4rb4

Euronews, 2015. Mobile phone app helps Syrian refugees settle in Turkey, Live Leak, available at: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=3af_1423593018#7ztw0CXRX9lAdeKj.99

Images in order of appearance:

New America. 2015. Policy Responses to the Refugee Crisis, CC BY, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An-sbY_0w2k

CAFOD Photo Library. 2015. Refugee crisis in Europe, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cafodphotolibrary/22094354393/in/album-72157660723785641/

Lima M. 2015. A group of Syrian refugees charged their cellphones using a television station’s satellite truck outside the Keleti train station in Budapest last week, The New York Times, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/migrants/phone-charging-stations

Hutton G. 2015. “This is a photo of my four young children. The smartphone was really useful to teach them a few German words and keep them busy road with games.”, VICE, available at: http://www.vice.com/de/read/was-bedeutet-flchtlingen-ihr-smartphone

Muheisen M. 2015. Refugee holding phone with google maps and directions, Time, available at: http://time.com/4062120/see-how-smartphones-have-become-a-lifeline-for-refugees/

Williams A. 2015. Stop shaming Syrian refugees for using cellphones, The Daily Dot, available at: http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/syria-refugees-cell-phone-use/

Hatzistavrou I. 2015. Man holds map while refugees take photos on smartphones, Baltimore Sun, available at: http://darkroom.baltimoresun.com/2015/09/daily-brief-sept-21/#10

Powell A. 2015. Advtertising sign on makeshift shop in Za’atari camp, The Borgen Project, available at: http://borgenproject.org/wi-fi-jordan-refugee-camp/

Pizzi M. 2015. A billboard above a shop along Zaatari’s market area, which references various social media platforms and messaging apps that are popular among Syrians, Aljazeera America, available at: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/7/16/internet-access-zaatari-camp.html

The For Profit Camp. 2016. Electric Wires at Za’atari Camp. The Argentine Post, available at: http://theargentinepost.ga/news/the-for-profit-refugee-camp

Specia M. 2015. Smartphones line a makeshift shop in the Za’atari refugee camp on Sept. 19, 2015, Mashable, available at: http://mashable.com/2015/09/22/zaatari-refugee-camp-smartphones-whatsapp/#4uqZDzJQcEqp

AAP. 2014. Aerial shot of Nauru detention centre, SBS, available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/04/29/nauru-rejects-amnesty-international-visit

All images/screenshots of detainees on Nauru were from Save the Children, NAURU Facebook Page, 2016, available at: https://www.facebook.com/Free-the-Children-NAURU-839867502797443/?fref=ts

Screenshots from Mahmoud Bitar’s Facebook Page, 2016, available at: https://www.facebook.com/mahmoud.bitar66/?fref=ts

Kara M. 2014. Gherbtna app layout, Web Razzi, available at: http://en.webrazzi.com/2014/05/29/gherbtna-provides-syrian-refugees-with-guidance-on-basic-services-and-opportunities-in-host-countries/

Communications Trust. 2016. Computer in Homes training for the whole family, Computers In Homes, available at: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwiTt4Sg8eDMAhUMmJQKHcBiBesQjxwIAw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcomputersinhomes.nz%2Fget-started%2Frefugees%2F&bvm=bv.122129774,d.cGc&psig=AFQjCNGD8MZI4omOZcwCdtWCsWxd69RPVA&ust=1463566766213305

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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