What It's Like To Be A Refugee

by Emma Cueto

If you had to flee your home and could bring only what you could carry, odds are, the thing you'd reach for first would be your smartphone. As part of their report on what refugees need, the BBC has created a video simulating a refugee's phone, giving you a glimpse of exactly what it's like to leave your life behind. The current refugee crisis is not the world's first refugee crisis in human history — not by a long shot — but it is the first to happen in an age where smartphones are ubiquitous. With smartphones, refugees have a means of communication and a way to access information that would never have been possible in decades. But smartphones are also not as reliable as one might hope, and this video drives home some important truths that many may not have considered before.

Hoping to understand this and other forces shaping refugees' experiences, BBC Media Action launched a research study of refugees and their needs, during which they interviewed numerous refugees in Greece and Germany. Among other things, they found that many refugees lack access to technology, and even those with technology access often have a hard time finding useful information due to connectivity issues and difficulty finding trustworthy sources online. BBC Media Action also created a video illustrating their findings, and it does it in a way that's much more visceral than simply reading statistics on a page.

But don't take my word for it. Here — watch it yourself, preferably on a mobile phone. Let it hit you however it hits you. Because it's essential viewing:

Here are some of the report's key findings as shown in the video:

1. Timely And Reliable Information Is Key

Refugees say that one of their biggest concerns is knowing whether or not borders are closed and finding information for how to make the next leg of their journey safely. Often, humanitarian aid workers aren't able to provide this sort of information and rumors that spread online are often not reliable. Refugees also need more information on their legal rights, their official status, how the asylum process works, and what their options may be. The report recommends establishing information focal points in the camps and having regular meetings to update refugees.

2. Refugees Need To Be Able To Tell Their Own Stories

Refugee expressed a need to tell their own stories, and to have people listen to them. They were also concerned about knowing where to report substandard services, and to whom they should communicate their immediate needs in refugee camps.

3. Translators, Legal Advisors, and Trauma Counseling Are Important

The report found that many refugees were concerned about the lack of translators, especially translators who spoke Farsi. Many reported not trusting translators provided for asylum interviews. Additionally, the report noted that many refugees require trauma counseling, and many need counsel on legal matters. More counselors, legal advisors, and translators are needed to serve these communities.

4. Connection Makes People More Resilient

Although smartphones might not be an immediate portal to reliable information or to services people need, they can provide much needed connection to friends and family, even after people are physically separated. The report notes:

[Refugees] who stay in regular contact with other refugees and who have wide communication networks of family members and friends (via mobile networks and social networking sites such as Facebook and WhatsApp) were likely to be more resilient than those who were less connected.

Due to this, and the refugees' need for information, the report recommends that all camps provide free wifi, something only some camps currently have. Because being able to connect to the Internet offers up a world of connection and information that makes a big difference.

Images: Fotolia; bbcmediaaction/YouTube (4)