A very special thanks to the Singapore Internet Research Center for organizing the workshop.


The 3M workshop is one of the significant events of its kind that brings together leading scholars on ICTs and migration issues, particularly marginalized migrants’ experiences and various impacts of mobile phones. The aims of the workshop are: (i) to gather researchers across disciplines who have been attending the issues of migration and ICTs to share personal and professional experiences, ongoing research programs, theories and methodologies regarding migrants’ lives and roles of mobiles; (ii) to address key/shared problems concerning the mobile phone usage of migrants in different contexts and solutions around mobile appropriation of the marginalized groups; (iii) to facilitate collaborations across borders and contexts; and (iv) to discuss subsequent collaborative research programs and the prospect of a jointed publication addressing the 3M issues. The workshop is conducted on 17 & 18 February 2017 at Nanyang Technological University  in Singapore.




Arul Chib, Nanyang Technological University

Karen Fisher, University of Washington

Rich Ling, Nanyang Technological University

Mark Latonero,  Data & Society Research Institute, New York City

Mirca Madianou,  Goldsmiths University of London

Saskia Witteborn, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Veronika Karnowski,  Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LMU Munich)

Dana Diminescu, Télécom ParisTech

Sina Arnold, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Vivian Chen, Nanyang Technological University

Hannah Thinyane, United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society

Nina Springer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LMU Munich)

Pei Xin, Nanyang Technological University

Hoan Nguyen, Nanyang Technological University



“I am almost marrying my phone”: Mobile communication and Syrian Refugees

Rich Ling, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

In this paper, we examine the use of mobile communication among 30 Syrian refugees. These people were interviewed in refugee camps in the Netherlands. The interviews examined the use of mobile communication in preparation for becoming a refugee, during their travel and as they tried to integrate themselves into Dutch society. The findings show that the mobile phone played different roles at different points in the process. During the travel, it was used to communicate information with other traveling groups, as a GPS device and for informing people "back home" of their progress. When the individuals had arrived in the Netherlands, the mobile phone was used to maintain contact with family and friends back home, as a device to help navigate in their new home and as a way to help translate information from Dutch to Arabic. The paper examines the shifting understanding of the mobile phone as a necessity and as a luxury in the eyes of the refugees.


“Without it, you will die”: Smartphones and Refugee digital self-organization

Sina Arnold, Humboldt University, Berlin

More than one million refugees have come to Germany in 2015 and 2016, most of them from Syria. Along with their histories, dreams and future plans, there is one item that almost all of the refugees bring with them: a smartphone. It has become indispensable before, during and after the process of forced migration.

The talk will empirically ground some of the theoretical claims about the role of smartphones, thereby contributing to an understanding of “migrant digitalities” (Trimikliniotis/ Parsanoglou/Tsianos 2014: 3) (in)to Europe. Based on an ethnographic study conducted between January and December 2016 in Berlin – where 90.000 refugees arrived in 2015 alone – it will present the findings of 15 qualitative interviews with Syrian refugees as well as a quantitative study in asylum seeker shelters. In that sense, it will analyze the smartphone as a local object that expresses and at the same time shapes global relations and transnational migratory movements both into and within Europe.

Our study shows that smartphones are digital tools that enable self-organization and greater autonomy among forced migrants in two ways: During the process of migration they allow information-seeking about both the country of origin and the country/-ies of arrival; they help in navigating specific routes, thereby avoiding dangers including police, border patrols and robbers; they aid in staying in touch not only with friends and families but with other migrants, creating “digital travel mates”; they can be life-savers through emergency call functions, e.g. at sea; and they reduce reliance on traffickers – by creating systems for comparing and monitoring their prices and services on the one hand, and through being able to navigate land routes without them on the other.

This function of self-organization and increased autonomy also continues after arrival: Smartphones enable learning a language; communicating with the help of GoogleTranslate; staying in touch with friends and family back home; organizing with other migrants against police and bureaucracy; they help in finding new ways to navigate the city and in return shape and alter (urban) space with specific migrant cartographies (Trimikliniotis/ Parsanoglou/Tsianos 2014). “Digital migrant identities” are therefore emerging; they become indispensible for self-representation in social networks as well as in real life. And after arrival, smartphone use also demonstrates the dynamics of contemporary “postmigrant” societies (Foroutan 2016), since the usage patterns of many young male Syrian refugees are quite similar to that of their German demographic counterparts: They chat, watch videos, listen to music and pass the time playing games.

However, the state of being “a connected migrant” (Diminescu 2008) also poses certain disadvantages. If life without a phone is truly “like walking in the desert without water” (Syrian interview partner, 25, male), then the state of “information precarity” (Wall/Campbell/Janbek 2015) becomes a new and imminent threat for today’s forced migrants.


Migration, Exploitation and Technology

Hannah Thinyane, United Nations University – Institute of Computing and Society, Macau

Worldwide there are an estimated 244 million international migrants, with 105 million of these migrating for the purpose of employment(IOM, 2015).  In our desk based research, we have identified three cases during the migration cycle where migrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse at work: during recruitment, during employment in home care and domestic work industries, and in cases of forced labour.  In each of these cases, we argue that there is a critical role that technology, particularly mobile devices, can play to help migrant workers improve their own situation and the situation of others.  

One of the first points during the migration cycle where migrants are open to abuse and exploitation is during recruitment.  When appropriately regulated, recruitment agencies insure the efficient and equitable functioning of the international job market, by matching available jobs to skilled workers.  However,  as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants (Crépeau, 2015) found, unethical recruiters exploit migrants through: collection of exorbitant fees and linked situations of debt bondage; misinformation about the nature and conditions of contracts; retention of passports and other identity documents; and threats of violence or expulsion from the country when asking to leave abusive employers.  In this case, we propose that access to information would allow migrant workers to make informed decisions about the agencies that they would like to work with, the conditions of work that they are entitled to, and where to seek help should the need arise.

In the case of employment in the areas of home care or domestic work, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable as their place of work is most often a private home, making it more difficult for authorities to undertake labour inspections than in other places of work.   Abusive employers often restrict the movement of their employees, taking away the possibility of seeking help in person.  This research proposes the use of mobile technology to allow domestic workers to report cases of abuse and exploitation by employers.  It investigates the use of technology to provide ‘balcony support’ by allowing workers to report abuse of themselves and other workers that they may have witnessed.  A core component of this research is to investigate the collection and reporting of information in a manner that maintains the chain of custody of evidence.

Another key role that technology can play is in the identification of victims of forced labour.  In many cases, authorities who come across potential victims of trafficking or forced labour cannot communicate with them due to language barriers.  This study proposes the use of simple mobile technology to allow authorities to help identify potential victims.  It investigates the use of culturally relevant information to allow workers to self identify as a victim, and seek help from relevant authorities.

Across each of these three cases, this research uses a mixed method research design, and situates interventions within the existing communicative ecologies of the respective communities.


Mobility & connectivity : a virtuous assemblage  

Dana Diminescu, I3-SES, CNRS, Télécom ParisTech, université Paris-Saclay

The classical view of social integration of migrants (newcomers but also second-generation immigrants) neglected mobility issues and even equated successful integration with stabilisation and the end of mobility. Immobility was thought to be a precondition to the immersion into a community and the subsequent internalisation of its norms and common values.  Recent perspectives have shifted towards an emphasis on mobility (being able to move), social connectivity (staying connected) and autonomy (being able to simultaneously resist and adapt) to characterise social integration.

It is therefore a tenet of contemporary studies of social integration, that the digital resources and skills pertaining to mobility and social connectivity are essential to the achievement of social integration. This will be particularly relevant in a very ‘connectionist’ society, where escaping exclusion requires a creative handling of social relationships and personal autonomy, and a strategic management of mobility and communication resources.

In our communication we want to make empirically observable the role of digital mobile device in the social integration of migrants in a very precarious situation through two social innovations: Téléphonie solidaire and JokaJobs


“I was more of a real person. Now I'm always on my SMARTPHONE". syrian refugees' use of their mobile phones in and to manage their journey to europe 

Nina Springer and Veronika KarnowskiLudwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LMU Munich)

Due to the ongoing violent conflicts in Syria, it is estimated that up to five million citizens will have sought protection and safety in the neighbouring countries and Europe by the end of 2016 (UNDP, 2016), with Germany being the most important destination in Europe (Mediendienst Migration, 2016). If the refugees have managed to arrive safely, they still face problems related to integration. These issues can best be conceptualized by using the concept of acculturation, i.e. forming connections towards the host culture while keeping connections to the home community (Berry, 2005). Mobile communication devices are already known to play an important role both in everyday life management and acculturation processes of migrants in various world regions (e.g. Aricat, Chib, & Karnowski, 2015; Law & Peng, 2008; Thomas & Lim, 2011). Syrian refugees, especially younger ones, are nearly all equipped with mobile handsets and more than half of them do use the Internet on their mobile devices (Koons, 2015). Given the immense challenges of the flight and relocation, we’re therefore asking: How do Syrian refugees use their mobiles in order to manage their journey from Syria to Europe and to settle down in European host communities (based on the example of Germany)?

In order to answer these questions we’re conducting guideline interviews with Syrian refugees in the area of Munich (Germany). The interviews explore the refugees’ personal background, their use of the mobile phones in order 1.) to stay in contact with their home community, 2.) to manage and coordinate the journey from Syria to Europe, and 3.) to interact with the host community in Germany. A total of 15 interviews are scheduled to be finished by August 2016.

First results based on the four interviews conducted so far show that the mobile phone is very important to keep in touch with the home community and to stay up to date about the current situation in Syria. But this communication is challenged by failing Internet connections or no electricity in Syria. Regarding the connections to the host community, the mobile phone isn’t considered that important, partly because of the huge language barrier. Consequently, the refugees often feel more connected to their home communities than to the host community: “[Back home] I was more of a real person. Now I‘m always on my smartphone” (male, 24 years). Regarding the journey to Europe, the mobile phone is extremely important first because of its functionalities like GPS to manage the journey and second in order to keep in contact with the family or to coordinate with other refugees. Therefore, it became one of the most important goods during the journey “No, I always took care of it. It was so important, I could not lose or break it.” (male, 23 years). By exploring uses and functionalities of mobile phones, this study not only sheds light on the personal relevance of mobile devices, but also carves out factors hindering communication with home and host communities to assess difficulties that should be addressed by relevant institutions.

fieldwork in singapore

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