Communication for Survival


Communication for Survival

For most of us living in the west, smartphones and tablets are often used for keeping us connected to our friends, family and even work. Many people use it for playing some online games or reading books.  While thinking about refugees crossing thousands of miles through the sea, the mountains and many borders its different story, Smartphone’s and connection to the internet is the most valuable survival tool. It can be more valuable than food and clothes sometimes.

It’s the only way to survive, find the path to safety and to reach the final destination in northern Europe, without it they might lose their way or go into longer root, without it they might lose contact with family members or best friends, they might even end up in the hand of the worst possible situation, in the hands of the traffickers that are willing to do anything for money.

How does it work? Where do they seek the information?  

The answer might be surprising but it’s the most obvious answer, Social Media and mobile’s applications, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google maps and some others.

Many people before they hit the road, they start what can be called the planning phase, looking and digging deep in the different Facebook pages and sometimes information available on some WhatsApp groups trying to find the means and the needs to start the journey, this information can be the cost, the communication channels with the smugglers, the timing and best ways to take, risks and possibilities, all these are considered as basic information before starting the journey. For most of the refugees, it’s a survival journey, running from imminent risk to what can be the death road for some. And the only way to make it is by following some information available on social media, in many cases the information can be misleading, unverified or not accurate circulated by smugglers, however, for many, it’s the only way.

Survival and guidance networks “real partnership”

Smartphones are an essential tool to join the club and become part of the network, as all information is available online and you need a key to open the door and this key is the Smartphone and tablets sometimes. What does it mean for those people to be connected to the survival online communities? 

It’s no doubt the most valuable product of our times is ” information”. It’s what they are looking for, information such as crossing points, updates regarding border policies in the Balkan corridor, contacts for available shelter, food and clothes distribution and of course free WIFI to connect to the internet.

Many people made it to the final destination in one of the northern European countries, this does not mean that they are out, they still share information about the country they live in, they tell their own stories and experiences, they share information about legal issues in their final distention country, they even tell what is considered a good story to tell the migration’s officers and the best way to approach the migrations departement or the police of a given country.



  1. Ahmad Khawaldeh

    Interesting topic choice!
    What was occupying my mind tgrough reading the article is; how did all of the above happen before inventing smartphones. Many million refugees found their way through history!
    However, smartphones indeed helps refugees but the question raised is what is the side effects? What added challenges does it have on them?

    • Ali Ababneh

      Thank you, Ahmad, very interesting comment, and great questions, you kind of gave me ideas for future posts.
      It is true people have been always on the move, way before the invention of mobile phone and satellites, they always had some tools to use and navigate through the seas and the desert to find their way and draw their movement path. The difference that technology just made it easier, more accessible and even cheaper.
      Regarding the side effect, the most common one is the misleading information they might get online, the manipulation of the smugglers, and of course using new technology can leave traces and that’s what refugees try to hide sometimes.

  2. Hala Makahleh

    Very interesting point!

    I’m ashamed to say that I never thought about it from this point of view. While watching the news, for us mere people sitting in front of the screen, you only look at it as refugees fleeing the horrors of their country to safety. Personally, I never thought about how they got to that safety, and the hurdles that comes along the way; hurdles that may not be as horrific as the terror from their home country, but could be just as dangerous.

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

  3. Santino

    Hi Ali.
    Thank you for a very insightful post. It was a well-chosen topic and it helped to shed a light on an issue that most people think about, but never really go as deep and as specific as you did. You have discussed this issue from a refreshing perspective. I can dare to say that, the majority of people who read about the refugee situation do so from a perspective presented by the media and news institutions, and these tend to be external from the actual events and a little bit “othering” , if I should say. Your perspective was refreshing because it represented a narrative told from among the refugees, chronicling the minute details of daily challenges, and this you did by putting focus on something that is as everyday-ish and taken for granted in the western world as a smartphone and internet access. You were successful in justifying how ICT is functioning in a development scenario. Your post struck me as revealing and insightful. It reminded me how in the western world smartphones and internet access are taken as social tools and to some extent as aids for a smoother, stress free, hardly as a life or death or survival tool. I could recommend your post to a stranger who I overheard on a bus the other day, expressing resentment and almost disgust at how he witnessed “refugees” (who are supposed to be , according to him, people who are needy, poor and God knows what else), carrying iPhones and iPads. This stranger probably related these devices to pleasure and entertainment, and not as essential tools of survival and as making a difference between life and death. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Ali Ababneh

      Thank you Santino for such thoughtful comment, and indeed I agree with you that it’s hard for people living in privileged areas to actually fully understand the situation in developing countries. Many people living in Europe asks me on daily bases -as they know what I work I do and I’ve been to disasters areas and war zones- about the refugees coming with all these smartphone with them and actually I remember people crossing from Serbia to Croatia in one of my work missions how they actually get updates all the time about the borders, the train schedule and alternative ways to cross if they missed the train or change the direction. Even some told us in random talks in the transit centers how they make meeting points and agree of exact places to meet in the next country in case they move apart from each other.

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