Forced Migration and Mobile Communication Technologies

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Saskia WITTEBORN, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
People seeking asylum have become part of the daily news agenda and political intervention not only in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East but around the world, including East Asia. The topic of mobile technologies and forced migration has received academic attention for a while but only through the extensive media coverage on refugees in the summer of 2015 did the topic enter public discourse. Mobile technologies are central to forced migrants’ lives as they are sources for economic survival, maintenance of transborder relationships, and navigation of flight routes (Leurs & Ponzanesi, 2014; Witteborn, 2015). Forced migrants have become connected migrants (Diminescu, 2008) as they use GPS for safe flight routes, Facebook to understand a place and its people, WhatsApp or WeChat for local communication, and social media to connect with family, find friends, archive flight experiences, or give advice to other displaced people (Papadopoulos, Stephenson, and Tsianos, 2008; Witteborn, 2012, 2014). This paper focuses on how asylum seekers and refugees engage with mobile technologies in Hong Kong as a space that is exemplary for arrested spatialities and temporalities. Asylum seekers in Hong Kong tend to spend several years in the city for their claim to be processed and then to be repatriated. Through personal interviews and observation of their mobile media practices, the study illustrates how asylum seekers and refugees use mobile technologies for sociocultural, political, and economic purposes, how they create virtual mobility, and connect Hong Kong as a transit space to global flows of information, goods, and people within (East) Asia and beyond. The theoretical base for the study is the autonomy of migration (e.g., Moulier-Boutang, 1993; Mezzadra, 2011) and how mobile technology practices arising from forced migration shape the social, political, and economic spaces of asylum seekers and refugees living in Hong Kong.