The plight of refugees in Europe has gotten a lot more attention in the last few days, thanks to the tragic story of a Syrian refugee child who drowned off Turkey. Part of that attention extends to the technology those refugees use, and it’s not always positive—some Twitter commentators have scoffed at photos of refugees charging their “expensive” cell phones.
Terence Eden, who works in the mobile industry, looks at one of those photos on his blog and takes his best guess at how much some of the pictured phones actually cost. Many of them are £30 (US $46) or less, and the most expensive of them isn’t much over £100 (US $152).
Mobile technology is ubiquitous and pretty much vital, especially if you’re stranded in a foreign land, Eden points out:
Mobile phones are ridiculously cheap. Even the top end phones listed above can be found for under £75 in any second-hand phone shop.
With a phone, you can call or text home to let people know you’re safe. You can buy a cheap SIM card in any country and be contactable by your lawyer and by aid agencies, register to look for work, find housing, meet up with friends, email loved ones, update Facebook, and generally take part in modern society.
Download an app and you’re halfway to learning a new language. Find free WiFi and communicate around the world for nothing.
And I would add that you can download e-books, many of them free, to read for entertainment and to better yourself. Even the New York Times story that photo came from is all about how essential smartphones are to modern life, including refugees’ lives. Indeed, this mobile technology is helping many refugees make it to Europe on their own without having to pay an expensive trafficker to smuggle them in, which is another truly amazing advancement. Technology really is the great equalizer, isn’t it?
Even in the USA, many homeless people have phones or tablets. They’re useful for applying for jobs and aid. A lot of people who do have jobs grew up in a time when they were more expensive, and tend to buy more expensive models themselves so they can lose touch with just how inexpensive the cheaper models can be.
I would say that it’s good this inexpensive mobile technology can be so helpful. Judging from the refugees’ stories, they’re going to need every bit of help they can get.