Example10 Example11 MCH LSE Refuge City ATH Refugee Info 003
Example13 Example14 Example15
Example16 Example17 Example18

Themes Example16

A collection of twelve stories highlighting the key emerging themes of the research from the experiences of both those that are 'new' to Europe and those that 'welcome' them.

‘Migration would be impossible without social media.’ These are the words of a newcomer we met in Athens. Digital lives are lived through experiences of solidarity, community, and hope, linking online and offline spaces of the city. The people we met live digital lives – learning and navigating their new surroundings on their phones, being connected with loved ones far away, and complying with requirements for constant feeds of data to the state that hosts them. They were much more than stories of individual resilience; what they displayed so richly were lives linked, connected and committed to each other.

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In all three locations, both newcomers and civic actors agreed that ‘information is scarce and hard to come by,’ yet digital tools offered opportunities for collating knowledge and sharing it. They told us about Facebook groups dedicated to learning their new locale – projects advancing cities of refuge, each with tens of thousands of members (in London, it was referred to as 'The Index'). Personal experiences are shared but also crucially categorised, providing Arabic language guides that are easily searchable, and covering topics as varied as finding German language courses in Berlin, getting an MOT in London, and lodging a claim for asylum in Athens. Digital spaces are also crucial for civic actors who use them to reach out to their networks for volunteers, resources and information, enabling them to learn from the experiences of others, to forge new connections, and to adapt and grow. These small acts of curating information as knowledge, in contexts of the structural failures of official support, open up possibilities for cities of refuge: spaces where 'community' is constantly remade through acts of relationality.

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We have plans to launch an app which I feel will be very helpful. There will always be issues with getting people through the door. Many just don’t feel comfortable, or their husbands don’t let them, or they just can’t be here. The app will be a good resource for correct information that isn’t otherwise available. I think most people are just learning from what other people have told them, or they're learning from YouTube videos — generally spaces that are not giving them the correct information.

(Brittany, Athens)

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We offer advice on asylum applications, and the process of registration and pre-registration, largely digitally. Most of our communication happens on Facebook — we have nearly 50,000 followers. We’ve also created info materials for asylum seekers and refugees about for example family reunification, the asylum interview or assistance for LGBTQI+ asylum applicants. Working digitally allows us to maximise impact with very limited resources.

(Michael, Athens)

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I am part of a theatre group made up of five Syrian women who were Assad’s political prisoners. A friend from prison invited me and we got together initially through Facebook. We’ve performed five times in Paris and once in west Germany. In the play I share a letter I wrote to my mother while I was in prison in Syria, telling her about my intention to transition. She had already died when I wrote it. Even though we didn’t have a good relationship, her death is one of the things that has affected me the most. I realised after she died that she was my god.

(Ali, Berlin)

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We love London. I met Hanaa, one of my closest friends here, through a Syrian group on Facebook about arriving in Haringey. Our first week here, we wanted to go see Big Ben. We used Google Maps but kept on getting lost! [laughs]. We started asking anyone for directions. ‘Follow me, follow me’ they’d say! We had a great time. It was raining a lot but it was still amazing.

(Leila, London)


When families and friends are scattered across national borders, connectivity to loved ones becomes predominantly digital. Grandparents watch their grandchildren grow up on Skype, having never held them. Birthdays are marked by sending photographs. The ease with which data travels contrasts to the increasing limits on the mobility of people. And yet, there is also a suspension of intimacy in family ties even with connectivity.

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It breaks my heart, the thought of never seeing my daughters again.. Because they are still in Syria, instead of Jordan or Turkey or Lebanon, it’s impossible to bring them here. And if they ever come for a visit, we need to show an annual income of at least £20,000. We can’t stop thinking about them, about how difficult life is for them…. When we talk to them in Syria we stick to questions like ‘how are you? How is your health?’ Nothing personal. All the major telecommunications companies in Syria belong to friends or relatives of Al-Assad. And we stop ourselves from sending photos of nice things, our new life, our home, the market, things I’m cooking. They don’t have access to everything we do, food there is scarce and expensive. So, we are continuously thinking about what to share, and what to hold back, in case it’s insensitive.

(Hadi, Hanadi & Abu Abdo, London)

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I help my daughters with their homework every evening at 6pm on WhatsApp. At the camp, the wifi is free but in Syria it costs them about 8-10 Euros every month, which is a lot from the money I send them. But it’s really great to see them. I used to help them only with math and English, but now they send me all their homework to review, even if they don't really need any help. They want to spend time with me. But it’s not the same when you can’t hug them, or even scold them. It’s about the five senses. I say I ‘see’ them on WhatsApp, but I also need to feel them. I want to walk with them to the park or to the theatre, not just hear about it.

(Muhammad, Athens)

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I run a Facebook group for women in the UK who speak Arabic. They’re from all over, from Iraq, Libya, Somalia... I’ve never met any of them in real life but I chat to them regularly in the group. They send jokes mostly, funny videos. Then I use WhatsApp to speak to friends in Iraq, almost daily. They are all married now, this one only got married last month, and most of them also have kids.

(Ra’ed family, London)


Digital lives are more than the connection between the ‘here’ and ‘there’; it is also about the new ‘here’: the city that newcomers have settled in. Google Maps is a pocket companion – widely used to navigate new spaces in London, Berlin and Athens; from locating the closest grocery store on the first day of arrival, to visiting historic sites further out a few weeks into the city. Translation apps are widely used too, though they have a propensity to fail. In one workshop, participants joked that they receive letters from their GP (in English) and don’t understand a single word, so they use Google Translate to produce an Arabic version of the same letter, only to find themselves even more confused.

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I know my way around the area very well because I cycle. I barely use the U-Bhan, unless I am with other people and we are going somewhere together. Otherwise, I am always on my bike. So I know the streets, the shortcuts, how they connect. I also walk a lot. I walk aimlessly, and then once I need to go back home, I use my GPS. I still use GPS to get home because Berlin is huge, you can’t have it all memorised.

(Abohanna, Berlin)

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When the Americans came to Iraq, they built a military base close to our village and it had a KFC. We tried it once and since then, I always wanted to have it again. When we first came to Athens, we decided to treat ourselves one day and eat out, so I searched for KFC hoping there would be one. Google Maps showed one right next to us in Syntagma Square. We shared a meal and we were so happy! We don’t eat out so we’ve only been there once, and today, with you, is our second time.

(Tareq family, Athens)

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The caseworker once called and she didn’t have a translator. But I was able to understand that she was asking where Seena and Zahra were. I was silent on the phone for a long time but then suddenly I remembered the word for hospital, so I said, 'Seena, Zahra... hospital...' and she understood!! But I mostly use Google Translate a lot especially for the text messages I get from the phone company or the Job Centre.

(Ra’ed, London)


From the quirky failures of the digital to its unsafe usages, many also raised issues of security, fraud and reliability of information, which moderated the extent to which they used some digital tools. Digital safety (or unsafety) also emerged through discussions on surveillance.

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Social media helps us keep in touch with people that have moved on from the shelter. We use Viber video calls to chat, especially with those that have left Greece. We don’t post pictures of the children on Facebook and we don’t have a Whatsapp group due to the codes of conduct. As an employee, you also need to be protected. For instance, one of our residents might call me at 11 pm because something happened, because he is upset or because he is nervous about something. So, personal protection is important.

(Yiannis, Athens)

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I don’t use Facebook much in terms of active posting, but my friends are now scattered all over the world, so Facebook is the only way to stay in touch. I use it mainly to feel like these friends are still present in my life but I don’t post my own thoughts. I do use it for news because I don’t trust the TV news much. It’s all affiliated with a certain political position. Facebook offers first-hand experience of people in the midst of something and is more independent. This is especially true for Syrian news. Anyways, global news networks no longer really cover the Syrian war with much depth. It's quite superficial.

(Anas & Muhamad, Berlin)

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