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The role of new technologies, including mobile phones and social media, in migration moved to the fore during the European migrant crisis in 2015. Images of Syrians fleeing civil war, along with Iraqis and Afghans, guided by their mobile phones became common in the international media. While much has been made about the importance of mobile phones for migrants, including by humanitarian organizations, what evidence do we have about the role such technologies have in migration, particularly for migrants in, and from, Africa? This article uses a semi-systematic approach to evaluate the strength of the evidence around the use (or not) of mobile phones and social media in the migratory pathways of Africans, primarily to Europe. This includes detailed systematic database searches, submissions from experts such as academics and practitioners as well as the use of snowball citation searches. We argue that given the intensity of the claims affirming the role of new technologies in migration, the evidence remains surprisingly anecdotal and weak. In short, the use of mobile phones, and social media, on migratory pathways cannot be generalized and further investigation is urgently required to better determine whether, and how, such technologies are shaping and transforming migration in the ways so frequently argued.

Original publication




Journal article


Progress in Development Studies

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