New research project to investigate refugees’ use of IT

The Velux Foundations has granted the research project Diginauts with DKK six million to investigate how refugees use their mobile phones and other digital devices to navigate geographically and socially during their travel through Europe.

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Text: Jari Kickbusch, photo: Nikolas Georgiou

When refugees from Africa and the Middle East reach Europe, most of their belongings have been left in their homelands. However, a large majority manages to bring one thing: Their mobile phone. Refugees use their phones or other digital devices to find their way through Europe, to establish social networks and to keep themselves updated. This is what we know now, says associate professor at the IT University of Copenhagen, Vasilis Galis. But we hardly know anything about what role the use of technology plays in relation to the refugees’ choice of destination country, to their well-being etc.

- Not that long ago, the refugees asked for food and shelter as the first thing when they arrived at the European borders. Today, they also ask for wifi. It’s hard to underestimate the influence of ICT (Information Communication Technology) when you follow migration flows. Where do the refugees wish to go? How does IT impact their general life conditions and social life? Furthermore, the mobile phone is not only a tool that can be used for navigation, entertainment or to search for information about legislation in the European countries. By using mobile phones the refugees also risk to be put under surveillance by authorities and others. All together this is a fundamental change for the refugees traveling through Europe, he says.

Field work at the borders
Vasilis Galis is one the researchers behind the project, Migrants’ digital practices in/of the European border regime, which is a collaboration between the IT University of Copenhagen, Aalborg University and University of Copenhagen. During the next two years (2018-2020) the researchers will investigate refugees’ use of ICT. Vasilis Galis explains that one the ways that the will collect data is by contacting refugees upon arrival in Athens (from the Greek islands), at the Danish-German and Danish-Swedish border.

- We will collect qualitative data from interviews with refugees at the border because we want to learn more about their motivation to use mobile phones etc. Here at the IT University, my colleague Luca Rossi, will use software to collect quantative data from social media. These are data that are already public, Vasilis Galis says, and adds that he hopes that the project will help refugees to find out how to exploit digital media in order to improve their situation:

- We aspire that refugees will benefit from this project. We want to bring back this knowledge to migrant communities, to inform them about the potential and the risks of ICTs, how they can get in touch with persons or organisations that can help them, and how they can make their journey easier and safer, Vasilis Galis ends.


- Research protect Migrants’ digital practices in/of the European border regime runs from 2018-2020
- The researchers behind the project are associate professor Martin Bak Jørgensen from Aalborg University, associate professor Vasilis Galis from IT University of Copenhagen, associate professor Luca Rossi from IT University of Copenhagen and associate professor Marie Sandberg from the University of Copenhagen.
- Furthermore three postdocs and two assistants will be attached to the project.
- The Velux Foundations has granted the project with DKK 6.032.600.

For further information:

Associate professor Vasilis Galis e-mail:

Research Communication Officer, Jari Kickbusch, mobile phone 2248 28 27, email