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A 21st-Century Migrant’s Essentials: Food, Shelter, Smartphone, by New York Times

Stashed in: World Citizen, Refugees United

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Summary: Smartphones have helped refugees and displaced people considerably.

BELGRADE, Serbia — The tens of thousands of migrants who have flooded into the Balkans in recent weeks need food, water and shelter, just like the millions displaced by war the world over. But there is also one other thing they swear they cannot live without: a smartphone charging station.

“Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the Internet and download the map to locate myself,” Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour, Syria, explained as he sat on a broken park bench in Belgrade, staring at his smartphone and plotting his next move into northern Europe.

“I would never have been able to arrive at my destination without my smartphone,” he added. “I get stressed out when the battery even starts to get low.”

Technology has transformed this 21st-century version of a refugee crisis, not least by making it easier for millions more people to move. It has intensified the pressures on routes that prove successful — like this one through the Balkans, where the United Nations said Tuesday that about 3,000 people a day continued to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia.

In this modern migration, smartphone maps, global positioning apps, social media and WhatsApp have become essential tools.

Migrants depend on them to post real-time updates about routes, arrests, border guard movements and transport, as well as places to stay and prices, all the while keeping in touch with family and friends.

The first thing many do once they have successfully navigated the watery passage between Turkey and Greece is pull out a smartphone and send loved ones a message that they made it.

Much of the change is driven by the tens of thousands of middle-class Syrians who have been displaced by war. Such tools are by no means limited to them, and are also used by migrants from Africa and the Middle East to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Traffickers advertise their services on Facebook like any legitimate travel agency, with dynamic photographs of destination cities and generous offers.

Continue reading the main story

On the Arabic-language Facebook group Trafficking to Europe, one trafficker offers a 50 percent discount for children under 5. The 1,700 euro price of the journey from Istanbul to Thessaloniki, Greece, about $1,900, includes travel by car to and from each side of the border with a two-hour walk across.

“We have cars going every day,” the trafficker boasts. One user asked whether there was a family discount for multiple passengers. And in case one doubts the offer’s veracity, the post has 39 “likes.”

The Trafficking to Europe group, with 6,057 members, is merely one small corner of an entire new world of social media available to Syrians and others making the perilous journey to Europe.

Syrians are helped along their journeys by Arabic-language Facebook groups like “Smuggling Into the E.U.,” with 23,953 members, and “How to Emigrate to Europe,” with 39,304.

The discussions are both public and private, requiring an invitation from a group administrator. Migrants share photos and videos of their journeys taken on their smartphones.

The groups are used widely by those traveling alone and with traffickers. In fact, the ease and autonomy the apps provide may be cutting into the smuggling business.

“Right now, the traffickers are losing business because people are going alone, thanks to Facebook,” said Mohamed Haj Ali, 38, who works with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital — a major stopover for migrants.

Originally from Syria, Mr. Ali has lived in Belgrade for three years, helping migrants and listening to their stories. At first, he said, most migrants passing through Serbia had paid traffickers for most or all of their trip.

But as tens of thousands completed their journeys, they shared their experiences on social media — even the precise GPS coordinates of every stop along their routes, recorded automatically by some smartphones.

For those traveling today, the prices charged by traffickers have gone down by about half since the beginning of the conflict, Mr. Ali said.

The only part of the journey that most migrants still pay traffickers for, he said, is the crossing from Turkey to Greece. Many migrants now feel able to make the rest of the journey on their own with a GPS-equipped smartphone and without paying traffickers.

Very interesting, thanks Adam!

Those traffickers make me so angry...

(Be careful not to get in troubles for hosting content that should be behind paywalls!)

I didn't quote the whole article and there's a link so the NY Times can be happy we are advertising for them for free. 

The traffickers make me angry too. I'm very interested in learning more about refugees and displaced people in the world today so please stash if you learn more. 

See for example:

Most of trustworthy paper I read are in french, so it won't be very useful to stash them here. ^^

True. The english press seems to be getting more understanding lately though.

I'm a big fan of this organization too:

That's a beautiful project!

That's kind of awesome that sharing on social media is undercutting the human smuggler's business.

Yeah, remember to bring that up whenever anyone suggests that social media is not useful. 

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