The connected refugee and reconfigurings of the migration process
The smartphone is the most global of all digital devices. Since the first iPhone appeared on the market eight years ago as a luxury accessory, lower costs and proliferation of mobile networks have made the internet-connected mobile an affordable and essential part of the lives of people also in the developing world (Doron and Jeffrey 2013).
In this increasingly connected world, not having access to a cellphone could mean more than mere inconvenience. It could be the difference between life and death. As thousands of refugees and migrants move across Europe, many are using smart phones in order to make their journey safer and share life-or-death information. They use free messaging services such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Viber to communicate with other refugees and family members who have been left behind and to share information about the best and safest routes and pros and cons of different destination countries. They are also using GPS navigation tools, Google maps, online translators and currency exchanges. In other words, smartphones are making refugees safer and savvier on their way to freedom. Once they have applied for asylum and are waiting for their application to be approved or rejected, they can stay in contact with their families and participate remotely in the daily lives of their loved ones. Connected to an account, the cellphone can serve for mobile banking and through various apps it can for example substitute the calls to prayer from a minaret, show the direction for Mecca, and help guide a supermarket visit to avoid products that are not ‘halal’. It can assist as a translator and facilitate learning of new languages.
Public agencies and non-profit organizations in receiver countries also use mobile technologies and the Internet to communicate with and assist refugees. For instance, several European non-profit organizations and groups of IT entrepreneurs have developed apps to help house refugees and to provide contact information as well as practical and legal advice to refugees and migrants (Harding et al 2015; Mattoo et al 2015). In fact, internet access has been acknowledged as such an important condition to succeed in the integration of migrants that the Swedish Migration Board has stated as one of its aim to “guarantee all refugees access to the Internet in the common areas of all asylum accommodations before 2017” (Delin, M. 2015).
Internet access is also a requirement for the Board’s related efforts to supply a spectrum of digital services, such as Swedish language studies and community information, with the intent of supporting asylum seekers to take control over their own lives. Most likely, escalating costs related to migration also pushes this shift towards the digital. In this study, we see these developments in the wake of the European refugee crisis as a particularly vivid, dramatic, and important example of the shift reconfiguring the individual, whether asylum-seeker or citizen, from being a passive external recipient, to becoming an active participant in the network that organizes and produces public services as well as the subjects (migrant, citizen, customer, co-producer) entangled in this network. Our research questions are:
The research project will deep-dive into the situation of the migrants and
How is the migrants’ use of smartphones reconfiguring the conditions for the Swedish Migration Board to (co-)produce public services?
What are the consequences of this reconfigured (co-)production for the kinds of subjects that become, or fail to become, integrated into Swedish society?
This project is part of the research program Digitalization in the Public Sector.