There’s a pernicious myth – often spread by tabloids – that the poor and hungry don’t deserve the meagre possessions which make life worth living. You see this in headlines like “Benefit Scum Have Flat Screen TV!” It ignores the fact that a) they may have bought the TV when they had disposable income, b) that a TV can provide nearly limitless free entertainment, and c) Flat Screen TVs are really fucking cheap!
As the refugee crisis in Europe grows, there are those who wish to exploit human misery and suffering for their own ends. They are usually backed up by the hoard of useful idiots who will spew hatred for their fellow man at the drop of a hat. One particularly spiteful meme is that displaced persons are obviously not poor because they all have “expensive smartphones.”
These are not expensive phones! The original photo by Peter Nicholls/Reuters is titled “Afghans used a generator-powered charging station this month at a camp in Calais, France.” and appears in an excellent New York Times article about how mobile phones are an essential lifeline.
I work in the mobile industry. Let’s take a look at all those phones, and see just how expensive they are.
These appear to be Samsung E1200. They are free. No joke, pop into a UK phone store and you can get one free if you buy a £20 top up.
It’s rare to see an Android phone with the back button on the right. No physical home button means it isn’t a Samsung. No branding, so unlikely to be Sony. I think it’s a Micromax or similar no-brand Chinese handset. Generally these handsets are under £100 – but it’s hard to say.
Physical button and smallish form factor, I’m going to say Samsung S3 Mini. £180 when first released, under £90 now.
Based on the orange colour and top charging port, I thought this might be the ZTE Firefox phone, but a closer look at the buttons at the bottom makes me think it’s an Android. Back button is on the right, which either makes it very old, or a no-brand phone. Based on the top charger and bight colour, my guess is that this is the NIU Niutek 3.5D2. A dual-SIM phone you can buy for around $40 in the US.
Generic pink powerbank. You can buy these for £4. Not a typo. Under a fiver.
Mobile phones are ridiculously cheap. Even the top end phones listed above can be found for under £75 in any second-hand phone shop.
With a phone, you can call or text home to let people know you’re safe. You can buy a cheap SIM card in any country and be contactable by your lawyer and by aid agencies, register to look for work, find housing, meet up with friends, email loved ones, update Facebook, and generally take part in modern society.
Download an app and you’re halfway to learning a new language. Find free WiFi and communicate around the world for nothing.
If I was down to the clothes I wore and the phone in my pocket, I’d sell my shirt before cutting myself off from modern communications!
The next time someone tries to tell you that a refugee can’t be that destitute because they have a smartphone – gently remind them how cheap modern technology is and how essential phones are to modern life. Then tell them to shut the hell up.
If you can, please set up a monthly donation to Oxfam, or a charity of your choice, in order to help people survive.