Phones play an integral role in survival for refugees

Mobile phones have played an integral role in the refugees’ trek across Europe, linking people with family at home and helping to navigate the route ahead.

Apps such as Viber and Whatsapp are connecting families and warning those behind of any dangers ahead. Refugees send voice and text messages to family and friends at home, letting them know they are safe, especially after crossing the Mediterranean.

Those ahead also Whatsapp GPS coordinates to warn others of detention camps and any problems with authorities at border crossings.

Ghasaan, 24, an Iraqi Shia who left Baghdad after a bomb destroyed his home, said smartphones have been vital in helping him make the journey to Europe.

“Without them we cannot go forward. For example, we know that Hungary can be dangerous for Syrians and that we have to pass through it quickly. Our friends ahead can tell us what the situation is with the trains and what border points are easy to cross,” he said.

Each country requires a new sim card as refugees update family back home with their progress, and GPS features allow them to navigate their way through forests and fields during the dangerous night trek from Serbia into Hungary.

In Belgrade and Budapest, refugees strain to get a WiFi signal and each group has Chinese-made backup chargers in case batteries run low. Some businesses now charge refugees to recharge phones and in Budapest, fast food restaurants shut off their WiFi to deter refugees from entering. While some have criticised refugees’ use of smartphones, viewing them as luxuries, Ghasaan said they are “more important than food” on the journey north.

“We are not barbarians; we are civilised people. War has destroyed our countries but we have Facebook just like you. We take selfies and update our friends at home with Facebook posts. But now phones aren’t just about socialising, they are more important than food. We need them to survive.”

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