Voices of refugees: Information and communication needs of refugees in Greece and Germany

BBC Media Action


How do refugees access and use information? The millions of people using unofficial migration routes to reach northern European countries often cannot get the reliable information they need to make decisions and survive. This report examines the communication behaviours and priority information needs of refugees. It finds that a lack of online or mobile connectivity and limited consistent information that they can trust are key challenges. It also highlights the challenges and concerns humanitarian agencies face in addressing these needs.

This report draws on qualitative data collected in April 2016: interviews with 66 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq staying in formal and informal camps in Greece; 16 additional interviews took place with refugees who had arrived in Germany; 16 focus group discussions; and 41 in-depth interviews with humanitarian actors in Greece and four in Germany to assess their understanding of refugees’ communication needs.

Refugees have an overarching need for critical information about their current and future situation, as well as their broader communication needs:

  • Refugees need to be listened to, be able to tell their stories and to participate in dialogue that provides them with physical, social and psychosocial support. Many refugees also need trauma counselling.
  • Humanitarian actors are often unable to fulfil the need for timely and reliable information on how to get to their next destination safely, quickly and without being detained.
  • Refugees interviewed in Greece tended to be confused about their status and legal rights, and also described how they needed basic information about the logistics of daily living but did not have common language skills to communicate with service providers.
  • Respondents noted how they did not have a choice with who to trust for information in the information vacuum they are faced with.
  • Those who stayed in regular contact with other refugees and who have wide communication networks of family members and friends were likely to be more resilient than those who were less connected.

Interviews with humanitarian staff revealed that while they wanted to share helpful, accurate information, they were aware they had no control over the fast-changing situation. They highlighted staff turnover and their work with multiple actors who may have different agendas as additional challenges.

Suggestions from refugees on how their information and communication needs could be met included having focal points and legal advisers within camps who speak the right languages to communicate people’s needs and concerns and advise on individual cases, as well as regular information meetings led by EU/government officials, and free internet connectivity in all camps.

Other ways in which communication can play an important role in supporting people stranded in camps in Greece and Germany are also highlighted in the research, including:

  • Ensuring that refugees have a voice could help to alleviate frustrations and rebuild trust.
  • Sharing stories of other refugees in similar situations to support decision-making and information required.
  • Providing psychosocial support and trauma counselling for refugees to address dangers and difficulties they have faced before leaving and while in transit.
  • Fostering tolerance between different groups within camps through creating platforms for dialogue such as drama and discussion.
  • Exploring the relevance of social media for refugees and working with it, instead of alongside it.


BBC Media Action. (2016). Voices of refugees: Information and communication needs of refugees in Greece and Germany. London: BBC Media Action.