Using phones, migrants rely on social media for journey

from CNN.com – Top Stories http://ift.tt/1ihOwpw

Story highlights

  • "There’s a lot of technology," said Alessandra Morelli, from the UNHCR
  • Refugees fleeing Syria are using social media apps for advice, maps, addresses
  • Facebook pages tell the the type of tent to buy, and advise them to destroy their boats

Lesbos, Greece (CNN)If you have the right passport, it only costs around $36 to buy a one-way ticket aboard a ferry from the Turkish coast to this Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

The ferry completes the journey in about 45 minutes.

The going rate for Syrian refugees, however, is around $1,350 per person. That money has to be paid in cash to smugglers who shove passengers out to sea on board inflated rafts packed full of dozens of migrants.

Joseph, a Christian who fled Syria to Turkey with nine family members less than two weeks ago, says he was loaded onto a seven meter raft carrying a total of 62 passengers.

Joseph, who did not want to reveal his full name for fear of reprisals against family members still in Syria, crossed the Aegean with his family Wednesday night. All together, they spent the equivalent of around $14,600 for the dangerous journey.

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    "This is very expensive but the soul is expensive," he explained.

    READ: U.S. to take at least 10,000 more Syrian refugees

    The war had not yet directly hit the government-controlled coastal town of Tartus, where Joseph worked as an accountant. But he said the writing was on the wall.

    "If not in one month, then in three months or six months it will hit us," he said. "Syria is finished."

    Campsites and smart phones

    Joseph and his family were resting in the shade of a dusty stadium where Greek authorities have been processing Syrian refugees, before sending them to the Greek capital aboard massive ferry boats.

    Refugees and migrants are scattered all across this island. They wash their clothes on the beach below the crumbling ramparts of a 1,400-year-old castle that once defended Lesbos. They camp in tents in the parks. At night, they trudge past bars and restaurants where Greeks drink ouzo and dine on grilled fish.

    Europe's migration crisis in 20 photos

    Europe's migration crisis in 20 photos

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Police officers stop people from leaving a cordoned-off area in Roszke, Hungary, on Tuesday, September 8. Many of the refugees and migrants arriving there from Serbia <a href="http://ift.tt/1Q6K1rY; target="_blank">are afraid they will get stuck in Hungary</a> and be unable to carry on their journey to their preferred destinations in Western Europe, according to CNN's Arwa Damon.

    Police officers stop people from leaving a cordoned-off area in Roszke, Hungary, on Tuesday, September 8. Many of the refugees and migrants arriving there from Serbia <a href="http://ift.tt/1Q6K1rY; target="_blank">are afraid they will get stuck in Hungary</a> and be unable to carry on their journey to their preferred destinations in Western Europe, according to CNN's Arwa Damon.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Police officers stop people from leaving a cordoned-off area in Roszke, Hungary, on Tuesday, September 8. Many of the refugees and migrants arriving there from Serbia are afraid they will get stuck in Hungary and be unable to carry on their journey to their preferred destinations in Western Europe, according to CNN’s Arwa Damon.
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    A woman holds a child as hundreds of migrants try to board a train in Nickelsdorf, Austria, on Saturday, September 5.

    A woman holds a child as hundreds of migrants try to board a train in Nickelsdorf, Austria, on Saturday, September 5.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    A woman holds a child as hundreds of migrants try to board a train in Nickelsdorf, Austria, on Saturday, September 5.
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    2 of 21
    So far in 2015, more than 300,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, exceeding the number in all of 2014, which was 219,000, a United Nations spokeswoman said. Click through to see images from the refugee crisis in Europe.

    So far in 2015, more than 300,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, exceeding the number in all of 2014, which was 219,000, a United Nations spokeswoman said. Click through to see images from the refugee crisis in Europe.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    So far in 2015, more than 300,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, exceeding the number in all of 2014, which was 219,000, a United Nations spokeswoman said. Click through to see images from the refugee crisis in Europe.
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    Authorities stand near the lifeless body of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey, on Wednesday, September 2. Aylan, his brother Galip and their mother <a href="http://ift.tt/1iCx2E5; target="_blank">drowned while fleeing Syria</a>. This photo has been shared widely around the world, often with a Turkish hashtag that means "Flotsam of Humanity."

    Authorities stand near the lifeless body of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey, on Wednesday, September 2. Aylan, his brother Galip and their mother <a href="http://ift.tt/1iCx2E5; target="_blank">drowned while fleeing Syria</a>. This photo has been shared widely around the world, often with a Turkish hashtag that means "Flotsam of Humanity."

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Authorities stand near the lifeless body of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey, on Wednesday, September 2. Aylan, his brother Galip and their mother drowned while fleeing Syria. This photo has been shared widely around the world, often with a Turkish hashtag that means "Flotsam of Humanity."
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    4 of 21
    A refugee, holding his son and daughter, cries tears of joy after their boat arrived on the Greek island of Kos on Saturday, August 15. The island in the Aegean Sea has been overwhelmed by Syrian refugees.

    A refugee, holding his son and daughter, cries tears of joy after their boat arrived on the Greek island of Kos on Saturday, August 15. The island in the Aegean Sea has been overwhelmed by Syrian refugees.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    A refugee, holding his son and daughter, cries tears of joy after their boat arrived on the Greek island of Kos on Saturday, August 15. The island in the Aegean Sea has been overwhelmed by Syrian refugees.
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    5 of 21
    A migrant in Gevgelija, Macedonia, tries to sneak on a train bound for Serbia on Monday, August 17. More than 1,000 migrants enter Macedonia daily from Greece, heading north through the Balkans on their way to more prosperous countries in the European Union.

    A migrant in Gevgelija, Macedonia, tries to sneak on a train bound for Serbia on Monday, August 17. More than 1,000 migrants enter Macedonia daily from Greece, heading north through the Balkans on their way to more prosperous countries in the European Union.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    A migrant in Gevgelija, Macedonia, tries to sneak on a train bound for Serbia on Monday, August 17. More than 1,000 migrants enter Macedonia daily from Greece, heading north through the Balkans on their way to more prosperous countries in the European Union.
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    A police officer in the northern French city of Calais tries to prevent migrants from heading for the Channel Tunnel to England on Wednesday, June 17.

    A police officer in the northern French city of Calais tries to prevent migrants from heading for the Channel Tunnel to England on Wednesday, June 17.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    A police officer in the northern French city of Calais tries to prevent migrants from heading for the Channel Tunnel to England on Wednesday, June 17.
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    7 of 21
    Refugees rescued off the Libyan coast get their first sight of Sardinia as they sail in the Mediterranean Sea toward Cagliari, Italy, on Thursday, September 3.

    Refugees rescued off the Libyan coast get their first sight of Sardinia as they sail in the Mediterranean Sea toward Cagliari, Italy, on Thursday, September 3.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Refugees rescued off the Libyan coast get their first sight of Sardinia as they sail in the Mediterranean Sea toward Cagliari, Italy, on Thursday, September 3.
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    8 of 21
    A Belgian sailor throws life vests to refugees during a search-and-rescue mission off the Libyan coast on Tuesday, June 23.

    A Belgian sailor throws life vests to refugees during a search-and-rescue mission off the Libyan coast on Tuesday, June 23.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    A Belgian sailor throws life vests to refugees during a search-and-rescue mission off the Libyan coast on Tuesday, June 23.
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    Migrants board a train at Keleti station in Budapest, Hungary, after the station was reopened on Thursday, September 3.

    Migrants board a train at Keleti station in Budapest, Hungary, after the station was reopened on Thursday, September 3.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Migrants board a train at Keleti station in Budapest, Hungary, after the station was reopened on Thursday, September 3.
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    Children cry as migrants in Greece try to break through a police cordon to cross into Macedonia on Friday, August 21. Thousands of migrants -- most of them fleeing Syria's bitter conflict -- were stranded in a <a href="http://ift.tt/1iCx3rr; target="_blank">no-man's land</a> on the border.

    Children cry as migrants in Greece try to break through a police cordon to cross into Macedonia on Friday, August 21. Thousands of migrants -- most of them fleeing Syria's bitter conflict -- were stranded in a <a href="http://ift.tt/1iCx3rr; target="_blank">no-man's land</a> on the border.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Children cry as migrants in Greece try to break through a police cordon to cross into Macedonia on Friday, August 21. Thousands of migrants — most of them fleeing Syria’s bitter conflict — were stranded in a no-man’s land on the border.
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    11 of 21
    Migrants wait to receive food at a railway station in Milan, Italy, on Thursday, June 11.

    Migrants wait to receive food at a railway station in Milan, Italy, on Thursday, June 11.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Migrants wait to receive food at a railway station in Milan, Italy, on Thursday, June 11.
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    12 of 21
    Local residents and rescue workers help migrants from the sea after a boat carrying them sank off the island of Rhodes, Greece, on Monday, April 20.

    Local residents and rescue workers help migrants from the sea after a boat carrying them sank off the island of Rhodes, Greece, on Monday, April 20.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Local residents and rescue workers help migrants from the sea after a boat carrying them sank off the island of Rhodes, Greece, on Monday, April 20.
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    Refugees cross a highway near Horgos, Serbia, toward the Hungarian border on Friday, August 28.

    Refugees cross a highway near Horgos, Serbia, toward the Hungarian border on Friday, August 28.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Refugees cross a highway near Horgos, Serbia, toward the Hungarian border on Friday, August 28.
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    Investigators in Burgenland, Austria, inspect an abandoned truck Thursday, August 27, that contained the bodies of refugees who died of suffocation. The 71 victims -- most likely <a href="http://ift.tt/1iCx3I7; target="_blank">fleeing war-ravaged Syria</a> -- were 60 men, eight women and three children.

    Investigators in Burgenland, Austria, inspect an abandoned truck Thursday, August 27, that contained the bodies of refugees who died of suffocation. The 71 victims -- most likely <a href="http://ift.tt/1iCx3I7; target="_blank">fleeing war-ravaged Syria</a> -- were 60 men, eight women and three children.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Investigators in Burgenland, Austria, inspect an abandoned truck Thursday, August 27, that contained the bodies of refugees who died of suffocation. The 71 victims — most likely fleeing war-ravaged Syria — were 60 men, eight women and three children.
    Hide Caption
    15 of 21
    Syrian refugees sleep on the floor of a train car taking them from Macedonia to the Serbian border on Sunday, August 30.

    Syrian refugees sleep on the floor of a train car taking them from Macedonia to the Serbian border on Sunday, August 30.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Syrian refugees sleep on the floor of a train car taking them from Macedonia to the Serbian border on Sunday, August 30.
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    16 of 21
    A migrant jumps a fence in Calais, France, as he attempts to access the Channel Tunnel leading to England on Wednesday, August 5.

    A migrant jumps a fence in Calais, France, as he attempts to access the Channel Tunnel leading to England on Wednesday, August 5.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    A migrant jumps a fence in Calais, France, as he attempts to access the Channel Tunnel leading to England on Wednesday, August 5.
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    Policemen try to disperse hundreds of migrants by spraying them with fire extinguishers during a registration procedure in Kos, Greece, on Tuesday, August 11.

    Policemen try to disperse hundreds of migrants by spraying them with fire extinguishers during a registration procedure in Kos, Greece, on Tuesday, August 11.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Policemen try to disperse hundreds of migrants by spraying them with fire extinguishers during a registration procedure in Kos, Greece, on Tuesday, August 11.
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    Refugees walk past people on a beach in Calais, France, during a demonstration on Saturday, August 8.

    Refugees walk past people on a beach in Calais, France, during a demonstration on Saturday, August 8.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Refugees walk past people on a beach in Calais, France, during a demonstration on Saturday, August 8.
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    Military personnel in Valletta, Malta, carry a coffin during a funeral service Thursday, April 23, for 24 migrants who drowned while trying to reach the southern coast of Italy.

    Military personnel in Valletta, Malta, carry a coffin during a funeral service Thursday, April 23, for 24 migrants who drowned while trying to reach the southern coast of Italy.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Military personnel in Valletta, Malta, carry a coffin during a funeral service Thursday, April 23, for 24 migrants who drowned while trying to reach the southern coast of Italy.
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    Syrian refugees walk the rails as they try to cross from Serbia into Hungary on Tuesday, September 1.

    Syrian refugees walk the rails as they try to cross from Serbia into Hungary on Tuesday, September 1.

    21 photos: Europe’s migration crisis in 20 photos
    Syrian refugees walk the rails as they try to cross from Serbia into Hungary on Tuesday, September 1.
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    But the wave of migrants washing up on these shores display a level of tech savvy coordination that has caught even veteran aid workers by surprise.

    READ: Denmark tightens controls on migrants

    "There’s a lot of technology… the level of organization that I see here in this context is new," said Alessandra Morelli, an official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with experience working in previous humanitarian crises.

    "When they arrive, they know exactly where they have to go, who they have to talk to. They know what to buy," she explained. "Facebook indeed is playing an incredible role."

    ‘Facebook refugees’

    Nineteen-year-old Kenan al Beni is an excellent example of one of these "Facebook refugees" from Syria.

    Al Beni and six of his friends from the southern city of Suweida, who ranged in age from 19 to 20, had all landed on the coast of Lesbos early in the morning on Thursday.

    When their boat ran into trouble at sea, al Beni said he and his friends called the Greek coast guard on their cell phone.

    "We have all of their numbers. We have GPS in our cell phones. We send them in WhatsApp and they come and save us," he explained, referring to the popular phone messaging app.

    Moments later, smuggler abandons them at sea

    Moments later, smuggler abandons them at sea

    migrants aegean sea journey watson pkg_00001618

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    He and his friends were clearly prepared for this journey. Many of them wore waterproof pouches around their necks carrying their identity documents.

    He went on to show a series of Facebook pages on a cell phone where Syrians compiled advice to fellow travelers on the migrant trail to Europe.

    READ: Who welcomes migrants, who doesn’t

    One page included photos of what kind of tent to purchase for camping, as well as directions to an affordable hotel in Athens.

    "Everything we need," al Beni said, was being shared on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Viber.

    The teenager said he was trying to get to Germany to continue his university studies, since the war had made higher education impossible in Syria. His brother was already there, having recently made the same journey with the help of smugglers.

    Island swamped by migrants

    According to the United Nations, some 70% of the migrants arriving on Greek islands like Lesbos are Syrian refugees. The rest of the new arrivals are a mixture mostly of people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

    For the first time on Wednesday, the UNHCR documented families arriving on Lesbos from Yemen, another country that has descended into civil war in recent months.

    The U.N. says approximately 50 boats of migrants land on Lesbos each day, depositing from 1,500 to 3,000 new immigrants.

    They have turned this Greek island into an unofficial gateway to Europe.

    Hundreds of discarded fluorescent orange life jackets litter the rocky beaches of this island. And along the shore, the waters of the Aegean lap against the limp remains of inflatable rafts slashed by passengers with knives upon arrival.

    Refugees said the sabotage of rubber boats is another strategy recommended on Facebook, to prevent Greek authorities from towing migrants back out to sea.

    READ: Migrant vs. refugee: What’s the difference?

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