Refugee connectivity: a survey of mobile phones, mental health, and privacy at a Syrian refugee camp in Greece

Refugees Digital communications Mobile telecommunications Privacy Asylum seekers
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Our team of four researchers spent two weeks conducting field research at a Syrian refugee camp in Greece in early 2017. Methods included a quantitative survey, qualitative interviews, and ethnographic observations. The study focuses on the central role of mobile phones in facilitating access to the digital ecosystem that refugees depend on for connectivity. Mobile phones connect refugees with family friends as well as humanitarian and government officials. Refugees also use their phones to connect to the broader information infrastructures accessible through the internet like electronic money transfers. In the words of one of the participants in this study “the mobile phone is like oxygen to me.”

It is clear that mobile technologies, such as smartphones, messaging apps, translation apps, online maps, and mobile banking all contribute to an unprecedented degree of connectivity for refugees. For a more robust and nuanced understanding, however, technology must always be situated within a specific social context. To explore digital connectivity in the refugee context, this study employed a “teledemography” approach to conduct field assessments of the population characteristics and information environment in order to better inform humanitarian response. An understanding of the demographic patterns of mobile phone usage and the potential impact on gender dynamics, psychosocial well being, and privacy rights are critical in the current context of ICT-based humanitarian responses.

Building on the existing literature, this report provides both critical evidence and a methodology necessary to advance the effective use of digital connectivity while minimizing risk and harm. In particular, we fill important gaps in the understanding of access to ICTs, gender, mental health, and privacy.

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