Mobile Media Practices in the Asylum Application Process (MOMAP)
As part of the UdK x Oxford Seedfunding for Creative Collaboration, David Lowis, Vera Klocke, Johanna Kirschbauer and Maren Hartmann are currently researching mobile media practices related to the asylum application process in Germany together with Derya Özkül and Rachael Kiddey, two researchers from the University of Oxford. In the past 20 years, smartphones have become essential tools. No longer just used to call people, smartphones are maps, libraries, cameras, TVs; used for banking, and finding everything from a new house to a lover. The expectation of being able to have the Internet at one’s fingertips has enabled the migration of more and more entertainment offerings, social contacts, and more recently government and social services online. Australia, for example, committed to a “Digital First” roadmap for shifting all government services online by 2018 (Humphry, 2019). This trend was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with governments’ digital ambitions perhaps best exemplified by a Deloitte white paper entitled “Delivering the digital state. What if state government services worked like Amazon?” (Eggers and Hurst, 2017). Some groups are in danger of being left behind by this process as a result of being less able to gain and maintain access to smartphones, and mobile and digital media more broadly. This includes displaced people. Displaced people are those people who leave their home country or city due to war, persecution, endemic poverty, or other intolerable conditions. Many of them desire to attain the status of a refugee, a legal status which confers particular rights and protections in accordance with the 1951 refugee convention. To do so, they have to go through a process of Refugee Status Determination, an often lengthy and arduous process which is conducted differently in different countries, who may interpret the 1951 refugee convention in at times arbitrarily different ways. Many of the steps of asylum applications, as well as the other governmental and nongovernmental services a displaced person may need to access, have moved online as a result of the “digital government” trend described above. For a variety of reasons (e.g. “technological leapfrogging” in developing countries, affordability, ease of transport, etc.), many displaced people rely only on smartphones as their sole device to access these digital services. In addition to the many challenges of gaining and maintaining stable access to smartphones and cellular services, as well as problems of where to charge phones when people are ‘on the move’ or in camps, these devices are inherently limited in their affordances. Form-filling, text-editing, and many other capabilities necessary for the asylum application process are significantly limited in comparison with Personal Computer devices. As part of this research project, a participatory workshop will take place in Berlin between 31 March and 03 April 2022. The workshop will be conducted in collaboration with an organisation working with displaced people, to gain insights into these issues and to develop a research agenda to take forward to better understand the mobile and digital media practices of refugees, especially as they pertain to the asylum application process.
Eggers, W.D., Hurst, S. (2017). Delivering the Digital State. What if State Government Services Worked like Amazon? In: Deloitte Center for Government Insights.
Humphry, J. (2019). ‘Digital First’: homelessness and data use in an online service environment, Communication Research and Practice, 5:2, 172-187, DOI: 10.1080/22041451.2019.1601418