Smart Phones for Refugees: Tools for Survival, or Surveillance?

Policy brief

Jumbert, Maria Gabrielsen; Rocco Bellanova & Raphaël Gellert (2018) Smart Phones for Refugees: Tools for Survival, or Surveillance?, PRIO Policy Brief, 4. Oslo: PRIO.

Photographs of refugees using smartphones have become common in the Western media landscape. Such images were much used to illustrate the arrival of refugees in Europe in 2015 and after. First stirring surprise, being at odds with stereotypes of refugees fleeing war, these images have now become more normalized. Using a phone or a smartphone has eventually become recognized as a matter of need rather than a luxury. What deserves public attention is that, along with this normalization, some European governments have taken an interest in how to make use of these devices and the digital traces of refugees (social media profiles, geo-tracking, etc). The ambition is to verify asylum seekers’ identity and to conduct security checks. In this policy brief, we review this emerging practice, and outline some of the key questions that it triggers.

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