Social Media Offers Small Comforts to Syrian Refugees

27 June, 2015

The Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan is where many Syrian refugees live. Inside the camp, families are using the social media website Twitter to tweet -- send messages -- to friends and family. As the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens, the use of social media mobile phone applications are holding together families that are physically torn apart.

Mohamed al-Refai sells mobile phones at a shop in the market in Za'atari. The refugee camp is near Jordan's border with Syria. The camp houses more than 80,000 people.

Over the loud sound of a machine that produces electricity at the refugee camp, al-Refai describes the phones in his shop.

Many people here say for families separated by war, information and communication are almost as important as food and shelter.

As he flips through his mobile phone, al-Refai's friend shows the news from Syria.

"This. The suffering in Syria and the killing."

Al-Refai says he uses Facebook to follow the news. He uses the application WhatsApp to follow his family.

He says his family in Syria moves from place to place, fleeing the violence.

Al-Refai says not many people have laptops at the refugee camp, but everyone who can afford one has a smart phone.

One of the news sources for many residents is a Za'atari Facebook page. It reports on what is happening inside the camp and in refugees' neighborhoods at home.

On a dusty street lined with tents and trailers, Mohamad Hamza Refai says half the people in the camp follow this page.

Aid workers say they also use social media to raise funds, which is increasingly difficult after more than four years of war.

Nasreddine Touaibia, a U.N refugee agency spokesman, says Za'atari is the first refugee camp to have a Twitter account reporting news from the inside.

"In terms of raising awareness it is very efficient. We are reaching out to a larger audience and we are targeting people from all walks of life. And we see them interacting with us. Asking questions. Wanting to find out how is the situation in Za'atari. How are refugees coping with Za'atari?"

Since the war began, about half the population of Syria has been displaced. Hundreds of thousands have been killed.

Young people here say they are constantly looking for new applications for their phones that do not cost a lot of money. They want to keep track of their families and speak to them more often. Some doubt a Twitter feed will offer much direct relief, but when there is enough electricity to operate mobile phones, social media offers at least a little comfort.

I'm Marsha James.

Heather Murdock reported this story from Za'atari Camp, Jordan. Marsha James adapted it into Learning English. Kelly J. Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

flip(s) through– phrasal verb. look or search quickly through something

displace –v. to force people to leave the area where they live

torn – v. to pull apart

trailern. a vehicle that can be parked and used as an office or home

Do you use social media mobile phone applications to keep in touch with family and friends that live far away? What social media websites do you use? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.