Migrants and Mobiles


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."

Migrant Tweet

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.

Migrant Nokia BlackThis is the Nokia 100. It's literally designed to be the cheapest phone on the planet. You can pick one up for £16 brand new.

Migrant Nokia WhiteMigrant Anon Grey 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.

Migrant Nokia Blue I'm pretty sure this is the Asha 220. Designed for the developing market, Amazon will ship you one next day for around £30.

Migrant Android YellowIt'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.

Migrant Samsung WhiteThe back of this looks like the Samsung S4 Mini. That was £230 when launched, now available for around £145. No idea about the phone underneath it.

Migrant Samsung GreyPhysical button and smallish form factor, I'm going to say Samsung S3 Mini. £180 when first released, under £90 now.

Migrant Firefox OrangeBased 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.

Migrant SamsungsBased on the front facing camera, the white phone is probably the Galaxy Trend. Originally £140 - now yours for ninety quid. The black phone could be anything.

Migrant Powerpack Pink 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.

12 thoughts on “Migrants and Mobiles

  1. The white Samsung is not an S4 mini - it's a Samsung Galaxy fame - retails for around £49 in the UK. So - an even cheaper phone that the original post surmised. That said, this is an excellent article.

  2. The black phone next to what you think is the Galaxy Trend is also another Samsung, based on the earpiece shape/color and that partial logo right below. Looking at that circle on the right, it reminds me of the Galaxy S3, as that's about where the front camera is.

  3. The fact that they have smartphones doesn't change anything. I too have a smartphone and if my house was to be destroyed in a Swedish invasion of Norway (not very likely) it will probably one of the few possessions I'd be able to bring with me.

    1. exactly, and we don't know what situation they were in before, so last years business man, with car and laptop and phone may be this years refugee who has so far sold the car and laptop to escape the war, and is probably unable to make outgoing calls, because that needs money to pay for the contract etc., which they don't have, and may in fact be the next thing up for sale, at a fraction of its worth.

    1. It's a tricky question to answer. Generally speaking, I'd expect a Dual-SIM model, no 4G (battery killer), WiFi, with a case/hole for a lanyard. Most phones nowadays come with a variety of languages installed - but it's worth checking if it supports the user's language.

What do you reckon?

%d bloggers like this: