Life jackets lay abandoned on the beach in Europe in the wake of the refugee crisis

The refugee crisis in Europe continues. An estimated of 700,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe this year from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa and beyond. Most of them have spent thousands of dollars to take their families on this dangerous and unsafe journey.

Despite the tragedy of the situation, a new development that has made it easier for refugees to move is surprising many veteran aid workers. Many of these refugees have been using technology, especially platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber and Google Maps to find their way to a “new home.” When they arrive, they know exactly where they are, where to go, and who to contact. They have already found the phone numbers of host country coast guards and even call them to come take them in safely.

Through social media, refugees stay in touch with their families who live in Europe and other places. They are able to provide information to others on the best routes to take and to avoid the dangerous ones. Social media helps them also avoid the police, find “safe” people smugglers, as well as accommodations for their families. It is also the best way for these refugees to receive the news and the latest updates on what European leaders will do next.

“Without Google Maps we would be lost,” a Syrian refugee told the BBC a few weeks ago. “Without digital technology we can’t reach there. It’s very hard – and it’s dangerous and risky.”

Many young men and women become the leaders of the refugee groups because they know how to use technology better than the elders. These young people have the responsibility to validate the information received through social media to make sure it is accurate.

The NY Times reports that there are many Arabic-language Facebook groups like “Smuggling Into the E.U.,” which has more than 24,000 members and “How to Emigrate to Europe” which has over 40,000. Discussion in these and other Facebook groups are both public and private. Migrants share photos, videos and the experiences of their journey taken on their smartphones. In a way that has never happened before, the world can learn firsthand the refugees’ stories through social media. They can engage with them, and even offer to help them.

In the last few years, social media has played an important role in driving social changes (e.g. The Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter movement and others); however, the manner in which it is now being used by “digital refugees” is unique. Although social media will not change the ongoing tragedies in places like Syria, it does provide one more avenue for these new migrants to succeed in their search for a better life.


Violet Tsagka is Vice President at turner4D.

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