People are often surprised that refugees and people seeking asylum fleeing their home countries bring phones and smartphones in their risky journeys to find safety. “They say they’re poor, but have you seen the smartphones they have?” How many times have you heard or seen this kind of phrase when you engaged in discussions about migration? Times have changed. If during WWII, suitcases were the most common item refugees and people seeking asylum would take on their journey, these have now been replaced by phones for several reasons.
If you had to flee your home country, what’s the one piece of technology you’d take with you that you’re sure will help you to stay connected with your family? Mobile technology has a critical role in facilitating family connection. One of the main things people seeking asylum ask for when they arrive is to use a phone to tell their family where they are and that they are safe. When they don’t have one, they are distressed until they can make contact with their loved ones.
A journey's lifeline
Digital tools are not only a means to keep in touch with friends and family. They can also be a lifeline for refugees and people seeking asylum as they use them to make sense of their route in a dangerous context and find the smartest routes and which buses and trains to use. A smartphone can be a matter of life and death. It can mean sending out an alert when the dinghy you are in is sinking or sending out an international plea or alerting volunteers when criminals have captured you.
Livelihoods and education
Here in the UK, a phone is vital for GP phone appointments, speaking to lawyers, contacting official helplines, online English lessons and much more. With more than 50% of the refugee population being children and organisations delivering educational projects using digital technologies, mobile phones are crucial to take part in these activities.