June 4, 2017

Athens, Greece

Every refugee seems to have a smartphone. It’s their lifeline. They need it to let family know they are safe, at every point of their treacherous journey; their families are glued to their own cell phones awaiting these calls. Many carry at least two portable chargers if they can, and share within the group they’re traveling with; when they’re safe to move on their own, they get SIM cards for the country they’ve reached. They use GPS and Google maps to guide them to country borders; one was telling me that when his own smuggler was lost, he used his Google maps to help the group reach the Macedonian border from Greece.

Smartphones also carry refugees’ most valuable possession – their family photographs. Almost every person I spoke to pulled out their phone to introduce me to family members back home – a mother, a father, a baby sister, younger brothers. In this photo, Almas from Afghanistan is introducing me to his brother, and to the country he left behind.

One Iraqi Kurdish man survived a long tortuous journey across several borders with his smartphone, only to have it stolen by pickpockets in the Athens metro; he was heartbroken to loose his family’s photographic history.

Now Saanya and I keep in touch with our new friends at various refugee camps through Facebook message, sharing news, photos, and good wishes.

Here’s a powerful BBC video about this important lifeline.


To support the immediate needs of refugees on the ground in camps and squats around Athens, please donate through the Multicultural Institute at this link; indicate “Greece/refugees” in the designation section.

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