For many refugees, journey to Europe begins on Facebook

2015-09-04 15:11
(Carl Osmond, AP)

(Carl Osmond, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Beirut - Would-be migrants hoping to flee war in the Middle East are using Facebook as their compass for finding the people smugglers they hope will get them to a better life in Europe.

The US-based website and other social media that were once used to help mobilise the "Arab Spring" uprisings now host information services for those escaping the Syrian civil war and other conflicts in the region.

There refugees can find much of what they need to know, right down to the prices, fees, bribes they will have to pay on a journey fraught with dangers ranging from drowning at sea to suffocating in a lorry.

On top of this, messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber help them en route to contact smugglers, friends and families alike while Internet mapping ensures they don't get lost.

Selling the dream

In Facebook groups set up in Arabic, users post phone numbers of contacts they say can take refugees from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands or even further into Europe, a continent struggling to cope with the migration crisis.

For those seeking a boat ride to Greece, details on where best to cross the Serbian-Hungarian border, or the price for being smuggled all the way from Turkey to Germany, users of these groups appear to offer many of the answers.

An ad posted this week offered a late availability seat in rubber dinghy departing from the Turkish seaside city of Izmir, one of the main points of departure for Syrian refugees trying to reach Greece. The price: $1 200.

"The trip is tomorrow, 100 percent, for sure," it said. "They'll give you a free life jacket." Another post offered places on a more comfortable "tourist yacht" at 2 500 euros ($2 800).

Social media crucial

Social media have played a crucial role throughout the turmoil that has gripped the Arab world since 2011.

It helped activists to mobilise protests against their rulers in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Syria itself at the start of the Arab Spring, and then became a means for citizens to report on the violence that followed.

It remains an important organising tool, and a practical aid for those travelling to and then through the European Union's 26 "Schengen area" states, which have scrapped border controls between each other, as they head north for countries such as Germany and Sweden where they hope help is at hand.

"We use our smart phones primarily, to have a GPS signal so we don't get lost," said a Syrian refugee who gave his name as Ahmad at a Budapest railway station, where he was camping last week with hundreds more refugees.

"We use social media, including WhatsApp, Viber or Facebook to communicate with people we know. If they are already in western Europe, they send information back to us to help us navigate the route," he said. "That includes contact information for smugglers sometimes, as well as things to watch out for."

'Hopelessness and despair made me leave' 

Facebook users also exchange the latest news coverage from Europe on the crisis, including one story about German football fans unfurling banners welcoming refugees. Another article covered Hungary's efforts to reinforce its border with Serbia to slow the flow of humanity.

A trip all the way from Istanbul to Germany costs 6 000 euros, according to one advert on Facebook.

"Turkey, then Greece, then Macedonia, then Serbia, then Hungary, arriving at Germany. You only have to walk for one hour, and then cross the river, with the rest by car to Germany," it said.

One user uploaded a video purporting to show a group of men wearing lifejackets celebrating as they arrived in a boat on the Greek island of Lesbos. A caption with the video offered two phone numbers for future customers.

Some refugees make the entire journey from Syria using one agent. Hafez, a 31-year-old refugee from Damascus, said he had found his via social networks.

"We got information about agencies, prices, fees, bribes, phones - all logistical details," he told Reuters in an interview in Belgrade.

"We also used Google Maps extensively as people who are crossing to Hungary are sending us way points and coordinates. For the moment there are two good spots on the border and one which is potentially problematic," he said, pointing to his smartphone.

"It took me three months to make a decision to leave Syria. Mainly it was hopelessness and despair after years of war and killing that prompted me to leave."

Read more on:    facebook  |  eu  |  libya  |  egypt  |  syria  |  migrants

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.