Refugees and migrants determined to flee war, poverty and other life-threatening conditions have found that Google Maps and Facebook can make the treacherous journey a little bit safer.
In the past, people in these situations had no choice but to put their money and faith in the hands of traffickers who are known to jack up prices, and force passengers to pay in human organs if they can’t come up with the cash, Business Insider reported. But now that they have access to smartphones, they can pretty much bypass traffickers and make the trek to Europe safely, on their own.
People look to Facebook groups where users post information about travel routes and places to sleep and get WiFi once they land, the Irish Times reported. Throughout the journey, people say they use Google Maps while traversing on both land and sea.
“Without Google Maps, we would be lost,” a Syrian man recently told a BBC reporter.
As soon as he reached Greece’s water space, his crew had access to GPS and was able to make sure they remained on the “right track.” Before leaving, they bookmarked the roads their friends who had traveled before them recommended.
Travelers are now able to give real-time updates to fellow migrants who are journeying in separate boats.
While traveling from Afghanistan to Hungary, a man named Ramiz received a message from a friend in another boat about having been confronted by border police, he told the Irish Times.
When Ramiz was met by police at another crossing, he took a picture of the location and sent it to a friend in another boat. The photo noted the time and the location’s GPS coordinates so the trailing boat would know to eschew that route.
“This is how we travel,” Ramiz told the Irish Times. “How do you think we got here?”
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, traffickers’ prices have been cut in half, according to the New York Times. At this point, refugees just need traffickers’ help to cross from Turkey to Greece.
Often, they can’t so much as afford a life jacket, as was the case when Aylan Kurdi, 3, died recently after drowning while trying to reach Greece from Syria.
But many middle-class Syrians, who have been displaced by the war, do have access to smartphones, which is part of what’s fueling the shift in how people plan to escape from their homes, The Times reported.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has doled out 33,000 SIM cards to Syrians in Jordan and 85,704 solar lanterns, which are used to charge cellphones.
But it isn’t just Syrians who have access to the critical technology.
Srba Jovanovic, an aid worker for a coalition of charities in Serbia, told Business Insider that every young male refugee he meets has a cell phone.
Being able to travel without relying on smugglers isn’t just saving people money, it’s also sparing them from brutal bribery tactics.
Last month, rescuers aided a boat off the Libyan coast and found that 51 passengers had died from suffocation, according to UNHCR.
Survivors said that the smugglers were charging passengers to come out of the hold to breathe.
But refugees know that all the latest technology in the world can’t spare them from the other glaring dangers they may face. This year alone, about 2,500 migrants and refugees have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe, according to UNHCR.
But those risks aren’t keeping them from at least trying to seek out a better life.
“I’ve reached the point where I know I could die at sea and I’m prepared to go even on a piece of wood because life is so hard,” Abu Zeid, of Syria, told The Guardian. “The circumstances we’ve been living in for four years until now, we’re out of the phase of fear, there’s no more fear in our hearts.”