The GMTaC Lab kicked off a two-day workshop on Refugees, Media, and ICTs on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 21. The purpose of the workshop was to bring a small group of researchers together to present work-in-progress or recently published articles related to refugees, media, and ICT use with a focus on the Middle East. Participants covered topics ranging from news coverage of refugees to social media monitoring of refugees, to digital connectivity in refugee camps. Participants were asked to deliver 20-minute presentations based on a current work in progress, and there was casual but lively discussions about the works.
Professor Carleen Maitland kicked off the day by presenting her work in progress on ICTs for Refugees and Displaced Persons. She describes herself as a socio-technical scholar who not only looks at tech deeply but also the societal influence of those technologies.For example, she explores the institutions and processes that affect availability and use of tech. With this in mind, such questions about where the refugees located and where are they allowed to go, which are tied to these institutional factors. One place this problem manifests is looking at connectivity access in refugee camps, and how this connectivity impacts the refugees’ abilities to not only communicate with each other but also access resources.
Matt Graydon, a current Graduate student in Comparative Media Studies and former UN Migration Agency staff member, explained the concept and dynamics mixed migration. In particular, Graydon worked with host governments in order to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and returnees. With mixed migration, the complexity includes situations where people returning to Afghanistan have been out of the country since the Soviet War, and therefore have been in Pakistan for so long that they have started speaking Urdo– not Pasto or Dar— and have sometimes married Pakistanis. The status of refugees and returnees during their migration is not always so clear-cut, as Graydon pointed out.
In addition to the in-person presentations, we skyped in Nisma Mansoour from Aden, Yemen, to discuss her own social media activity about the Yemeni Civil War. Her blog, The Story of ADEN, offers the perspective of a student on the ground, “with bullets flying over her head.” Mansoour pointed out that at the beginning of the war, the issues the media seemed to be concerned with were humanitarian, such as food security and electricity, but now the international community is only looking at the coalition bombing of Yemen. No one is looking at what the people in charge of different parts of Yemen are doing now, such as the violations they are committing. Mansoour hopes that her media production can help people all over the world see what the daily lives are like for citizens in Aden.
Together we screened 4.1 Miles, a short-documentary about the workers of a Coast Guard ship on a smile island of Greece who saves thousands of people trying to cross into Greece from Turkey via the dangerous waters. You can view the full film on the New York Times Op-Doc website here. The film is gripping, raw, and powerful and was nominated for Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 2016.
Professor Paul Mihailidis from the Digital Crossroads Research Project at Emerson College then presented his work on media production and refugees. Mihailidis posed the question, How do organizations understand and employ digital media as a mechanism for engagement, empathy, and the connection between receiving communities and refugees/migrant? One especially provocative example Mihailidis brought up was how the aerial shots of refugee boats were taken in order to quantify the scale of the refugee crisis– however, by quantifying the crisis, it also dehumanizes refugees.
To finish off the day, three refugees in the Boston area, Sayyed, and a case-work client were both from Afghanistan, and Eman from Libya, and originally from the Middle East came to join a roundtable discussion with us on experiences of refugees in the United States. The language barrier and lack of support in navigating their new homes in the US were listed as the primary challenges they faced.