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4 smartphone tools Syrian refugees use to arrive in Europe safely

Bassam Sebti's picture
Syrian refugee Yusuf holds his smartphone, which he describes as “the most important thing.” With this, he said, he is able to call his father in Syria. © B. Sokol/UNHCR


If you look inside the bag of any refugee on a life-threatening boat trip to Europe, you see a few possessions that vary from one refugee to another. However, there is one thing they all carry with them: a smartphone.

Those refugees have been criticized for owning smartphones, but what critics do not understand is that refugees consider these expensive devices as their main lifeline to the wider world, helping them flee wars and persecution. They are also the tools through which they tell the world their stories and narrate what is described as the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

The refugees’ escape to Europe is the first of its kind in a fully digital age. It has changed how the exodus is unfolding. Technology used by the refugees is not just making the voyage safer, but also challenging stereotypes held against them. Many Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, and other refugees fleeing to Europe have shown through their use of smartphones that not all refugees are poor. They flee because they fear for their lives.

Here are a few of many stories on how refugees are using smartphones to survive and tell their stories to the world:

M-government? – Innovations from Punjab

Ana Bellver Vazquez-Dodero's picture

Two recent blogs (Mobile Apps for Health, Jobs and Poverty Data  and Transformational Use of ICTs in Africa) talked about how mobile applications facilitate access to services in the financial, trade, agriculture, and social sectors.
 
Despite proliferation in business applications, most government applications only provide information about public services and agencies. The potential is huge and now there is a level playing field for developed and developing countries.  Take the USA where government applications are still quite limited in scope and quantity (see the 10 best).  Aware of their unleashed potential, President Obama issued a directive on May, 23rd 2012 to every federal agency “to make two government services the American people depend on, available on mobile phones.”  Yes, May 2012.