Digital Kowledge Flows of Refugees - Between Temporal and Geographical Spaces/Places of Domestic and Receiving Countries / FLOURISH

Tasks and aims

The public debate on "luxury articles" in the form of "smartphones" owned by e.g. the group of Syrian refugees (see, for example the German Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11th August 2015), which caused a misunderstanding in certain population groups of the receiving countries, can be put forward by counter-arguments, which debate that smartphones are the "new fast window" to the outside world of the target group. This tool enables refugees to orient themselves primarily and communicate at any time regardless of location. In their transnational migration networks (for example, Pries, 2001, 2011, Schmiz, 2011, Schmitz, 2013), they can synchronize their families, friends and further associates (including those who have met them in transit countries and on the route of escape) and deliver as well as exchange their experiences with them quickly through the use of so-called short messenger services such as "Whatsapp".

When considering the information levels that are exchanged, the question arises whether temporal proximity in refugee shelters has influenced the information content and information flow transmitted by digital media, based on the proximity concept (e.g. Boschma 2005, Kuttim, 2016) and how the information changes by the dissolution of such proximity – in case of refugees moving places of residence. The concept of proximity argues, that similar values, cognitive patterns, related histories, and cultural paths of individuals who interact temporarily with each other in a physical place act as supporting factors of confidence building, which in turn allows a faster and informal exchange of knowledge and information that can be relayed through digital media.


The focus of the study is an online-based survey of the target group´s sample in Germany and Italy (about 20 to 30 people), which aims at exploring:

• What contents and information are provided and exchanged via e.g. "Whatsapp" between domestic and receiving countries/regions of the refugees (for example, escape routes, labour market, socio-cultural situation of the receiving country)?
• Has the temporal proximity influenced the information content and has the content changed after the move of the individual from the refugee shelter?
• Is it possible to spread myths about the receiving country by messengers and thus make the own refugee situation look “better” then it is in reality?
• Do the exchanged information influence further immigration flows or the chain migration from Syria and other countries to Germany and Italy?

The online survey is carried out both in the region of North Rhine-Westphalia, which is ranked as the first refugee destination (BAMF, 2017) in Germany, as well as in the Italian region of Marche, which is one of the first reached regions by refugees in Italy due to its geographic location. First results of the project will be presented at the German Congress of Geography 2017 "A World in Motion • Exploring - Understanding - Designing", 30.9. - 5.10.2017 / Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen.


Dr. Alexandra David, IAT


Prof. Paolo Sospiro, University of Macerata