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Understanding the challenges of communicating with refugees in Europe

News Article

‘If you had to flee your country, what’s the one piece of technology you would take with you?’ asks an innovative new short film from BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity.

The film was produced as part of research conducted by BBC Media Action and Development and Humanitarian Learning in Action (DAHLIA) as part of Start Network’s European Refugee Response, to examine the opportunities and challenges in information sharing and communication between humanitarian agencies and refugees in the context of the European refugee crisis. 

The research examined the information and communication needs of refugees on their journey, in ‘transit’ camps in Greece and the ones who had reached Berlin. It found that access to internet, mobile networks and social media are critical in helping people feel more informed and better connected.

The design of the research reflected the dynamic and fast-moving political and operational context, focusing on the information needs of refugees in camps in Greece and those who had ultimately arrived at their destinations in Germany.

BBC Media Action exemplified the key findings through this innovative new short film, to help humanitarian agencies be aware of the communication issues refugees in transit face. Designed to be watched vertically on a mobile phone, the film helps the viewer experience the confusion and fear facing refugees making a perilous journey by boat.

We commissioned this research with the aim to inform the work of humanitarian agencies to help improve the daily realities for refugees through improved communication responses. We strongly encourage agencies to use the findings of the research to help strengthen their work to best meet the needs of refugees, whether it be food, shelter or information, through the flexible and adaptive responses that the Start Network provides.

Emily Whitehead, European Refugee Response Programme Manager at the Start Network

Key findings

  • Refugees are making significant life-choices, often without the information they need. They lack accurate and timely information on where they are allowed to live, their current legal status, what will happen to them next and how the asylum process works.

  • Humanitarian agencies are seeking to provide this information but it is challenging as they feel they often don’t have all the answers.
    Communication is needed beyond the provision of information. Refugees expressed that they want to be listened to and to tell their stories in their own language.

  • There is also a need for psychosocial support especially in camps where tensions are spiralling and social cohesion is seriously threatened. Many highlighted the need for trauma counselling.

  • Faced with an information vacuum and not knowing what sources to trust, refugees said they have no choice but to turn to rumours, anecdotal information and risky informal information networks (e.g. smugglers or unverified sources on social media). Their most trusted information sources are family and friends, and people who had made the journey already.

  • The research showed that being connected to friends and family is important. Participants who stay in regular contact with other refugees and who have wide communication networks are likely to be more resilient than those who are less connected.

BBC Media Action’s Alexandra Buccianti, said, “In times of crisis, we know that information can be as important as food, water and shelter. Yet in this digital age, many refugees travelling through unfamiliar territory lack reliable information to stay safe and survive. Whether it is following conflict, flood or famine, this film shows communication is essential in any humanitarian crisis.”

Read more about the research

The research into the communication needs of refugees was funded and commissioned by UK Aid as part of the Start Network’s European Refugee Response Programme, via the CDAC (Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities) Network.

Keep reading:

European refugee crisis

  • by Startnetwork