by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
Writing from Serbia, New York Times reporter Matthew Brunwasser, describes the surprizing role that technology is playing in the current European refugee crisis:
The tens of thousands of migrants who have flooded into the Balkans in recent weeks need food, water and shelter, just like the millions displaced by war the world over. But there is also one other thing they swear they cannot live without: a smartphone charging station.
“Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the Internet and download the map to locate myself,” Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour, Syria, explained as he sat on a broken park bench in Belgrade, staring at his smartphone and plotting his next move into northern Europe.
“I would never have been able to arrive at my destination without my smartphone,” he added. “I get stressed out when the battery even starts to get low.” …
Commenting on the NYT article at MarginalRevolution, economist Tyler Cowen points out that, “Yes, disintermediation is kicking in,” and he highlights this excerpt:
“Right now the traffickers are losing business because people are going alone, thanks to Facebook,” said Mohamed Haj Ali, 38, who works with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital — a major stopover for migrants.
Facebook groups are used to pass along GPS coordinates and the prices charged by the traffickers have fallen in half.
As the article makes clear, however, technology is a mixed blessing for refugees:
Mr. Aljasem said … it was too dangerous to travel with [a smart phone] in Syria. Soldiers at government checkpoints, as well as at Islamic State checkpoints, commonly demand Facebook passwords, he said. They look at Facebook profiles to determine one’s allegiance in the war.
“If you didn’t give the soldiers your Facebook password, they would beat you, destroy your phone or worse.”