SEATTLE — Mobile phones provide a lifeline for refugees fleeing their homes. Though often perceived as a luxury, mobile phones help refugees navigate new and confusing situations, stay in contact with people at home and research routes to get where they need to go. Refugees even check the news throughout their journey to determine the countries into which they are most likely to be allowed. Mobile phones help them stay in contact with people-smugglers who help them safely reach their destination.
Aid organizations are taking advantage of migrants’ widespread access to the internet through mobile phones. The European Asylum Support Office has a Facebook page and app with information intended to showcase the benefits of migrating to various countries in Europe. The International Rescue Committee has created the website refugeeinfo.eu to provide information based on location to refugees entering Europe.
Mobile phones help refugees after relocation in new countries as well. Apps like WhatsApp and Viber help refugees to connect with families and friends. As soon as migrants reach their destination, they seek out a place to access the internet and charge their mobile devices to contact their loved ones. They often take selfies to let the people they care about know where they are.
Mobile banking apps can provide an easy way to pay bills or transfer money back home. Apps like Sendwave allow migrants to wire transfer money to their families elsewhere without paying exorbitant fees. Simple internet access also helps refugees access public transportation and government services on their phones.
New apps are being introduced to capitalize on the way mobile phones help refugees make sense of their new locations. Tarjimly is a new app that connects volunteer translators with refugees. The app performs real-time translations on smartphones through Facebook Messenger, allowing migrants to speak with doctors, lawyers and aid organizations no matter where they are. Though it is still in demo mode, the app has seen an outpouring of interest from translators seeking to offer their services.
Similar apps exist in specific countries to assist refugees. Another app called Gherbtna, which means “loneliness in exile,” helps Syrian refugees living in Turkey. It provides information about asylum, news, opportunities for housing and jobs and a place to ask questions about aid services in the country. The app’s creator plans to expand these services to other countries where many Syrian refugees are putting down roots. These include Germany and Sweden.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Germany has created another app called Ankommen, which means “arrive” in German. The app provides basics of the German language, information on the asylum procedure and information on cultural practices in Germany. Services are available in Arabic, English, Farsi, French and German.
This vast network of apps, websites and social networks provides refugees with a way to stay connected and safe. Whether journeying from their homes or living in a new country, mobile phones help refugees retain some semblance of a normal life. Internet access through phones can provide life-saving access to aid organizations or a way to remain in contact with friends and family elsewhere. For refugees, mobile phones can be a necessity rather than a luxury.
– Lindsay Harris