The complex political situation in the Middle East in the last few years caused the biggest refugee crisis that Europe has faced after the World War II. Thousands are fleeing war, persecution and extreme living conditions with the only aim to surmount the long distance between the battlefield at home and the “safe haven” of Western Europe. Just a few years before the refugee crisis, the Arab Spring, or the “Facebook revolution”, proved that social media has the power to unite, coordinate and mobilize communities and catalyze social change. Therefore, this thesis aims to explore whether digital technologies and services have an impact on the mass flight of refugees towards Europe, one of the major social movements in the recent history. In order to do that, this study scrutinizes the relationship between the existent and emerging psychological and physical needs of a refugee in flight and the uses of digital technology and its features on the road. In order to investigate the “refugee experience” during flight, a qualitative approach is adopted in the form of ten in depth interviews with eleven refugees settled in the Netherlands. Later on, thematic analysis is in order to identify the main themes in refugees’ responses. Guided by the Uses and Gratifications model, which puts an emphasis on the social and psychological context in which the media is being consumed, the analysis confirms that digital technologies and digital tools play a substantial role in the refugees’ journeys. The results show that refugees turn to their smartphones, mobile applications and social media in order to gratify a broad specter of social, organizational, emergency and diversion needs. Providing the functional opportunities to contact their families and friends, to organize their trip in terms of accommodation, smuggling, administration and navigation, to react in emergency situations and to kill time when needed, digital technologies and services contribute to alleviating anxiety, stress, sorrow and disorientation.

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W.M.H. Ribbens, B.C.M. Kester
Media & Business
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

K.D. Kondova. (2016, June 22). The smartphone as a lifeline. Media & Business. Retrieved from