This is a #migrationfoodforthought piece from Carlotta Preiss at DeZIM Institute, Germany, about digital migration infrastructures, and the role they play in migration flows.
Would you flee without your smartphone?
The role of digital technologies during migration processes
Digital technologies have drastically shaped migration processes over the last ten years. Many refugees around the world rely on digital services to decide about and plan their journeys, to navigate or to contact smugglers, fellow travellers, and friends and family. Facebook and WhatsApp groups provide invaluable information for people on the move, while mobile money transfers from relatives abroad can be crucial to finance the journey. Mobile phones can serve as lifelines in emergency situations, and they can be used to store important documents. Sometimes, their entertaining features can even relieve anxieties and boredom during long periods of waiting. Today, many migrants consider digital connectivity as important as water, food and shelter (Gillespie et al. 2016).
For the CrossMigration project, DeZIM Institute in Berlin contributed to the thematic work package of Migration Infrastructures. This branch of research seeks to shed light on the often overlooked processes between migrants’ departure and their arrival asking how people migrate and what facilitates their journey.
Digital Migration Infrastructures are one important aspect of this branch of research. They can be defined as the ensemble of actors and services related to digital technologies that facilitate or mediate migration. They include smart and basic mobile phones, battery charging stations, cyber cafés, shops or vendors that sell SIM cards along migration routes, social media, communication and navigation apps, informative webpages and blogs, online information campaigns, telecommunication and money transfer companies, online travel agencies and many more.
Of course, Digital Migration Infrastructures also play a crucial role in mediating regular forms of migration through marriage migration platforms, online mediation of workers by recruitment agencies and online facilitation of students’ mobility.
As the possibilities for digital connectivity grow, so does the importance of researching this field further. Cross-Migration and the Migration Research Hub present an opportunity to delve into this topic. Migration Infrastructures in general, as well as Digital Migration Infrastructures in particular, can be explored through the taxonomy system of the Migration Research Hub.
Gillespie, M., Ampofo, L., Cheesman, M., Faith, B., Iliadou, E., Issa, A., Osseiran, S. & Skleparis, D. (2016). Mapping refugee media journeys: Smartphones and social media networks. Project Report. The Open University / France Médias Monde.