Q&A with Mr President's Thea Hamren on the #RefugeePhones donation drive

By Stephen Lepitak | -

November 23, 2015 | 4 min read

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to escalate, there is a common belief that by supplying those fleeing the war in the country will be able to empower themselves through being given a smartphone device. Mr President's associate creative director, Thea Hamren talks about Refugee Phones, an initiative to drive donations of old, but operational phones to deliver to the camps to give those staying within them the opportunity to communicate and build a better future for themselves.

Can you tell us about the Refugee Phones project?

Refugee phones was started in Sweden this summer after realising that many refugees arriving at the borders had had theirs broken, lost or stolen during their journey across Europe. A smartphone is one of the most crucial things someone seeking refuge can carry, without one you can feel lost, disconnected and without information.

We started up the London pod with the hope to bring connectivity to refugees at our UK borders. To the families and individuals arriving to the biggest refugee camps in Calais, who’s lacking a smartphone. No organisation on the ground has done this at scale yet and the need is big. We are a small number of volunteers working with it here in London, in partnership with CalAid.

Our hope is that people will want to help, and particularly the London advertising and tech industry, to together bring connectivity to those in need, by donating smartphones that might just be lying collecting dust in various departments, or new ones.

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Why are smartphones so vital in the camp?

Many families and people are saying that their smartphone is their most priced and possession, whilst many people's phones have been lost, stolen or destroyed on their journey. A smartphone is a basic tool that lets you keep in contact with your loved ones, understand what’s gong on in the world, where you are, and where to go next. Just simple things like accessing maps and the internet makes such a huge difference for people who are arriving to the camps. It’s also a tool to make your voice heard.

What reaction have you had so far to the initiative?

We’ve started out here in London simply by chain mails and talking to people - and people really want to help. I think the situation here in the UK has made many people feel helpless and frustrated, so when there’s an opportunity to actually do something and come together, people are up for it. Humanity at it’s best!

Also, many people wouldn’t have thought of smartphones as something that is crucial for refugees, but more like a ‘luxury’. Once you think twice, you realise the importance of them. If you had to run from your home and leave everything behind, what would you bring? Probably your phone.

How powerful can social media be in driving such initiatives?

Social media is definitely powerful when it comes to spreading awareness, but the leap from sharing a message to actually acting on it is quite big, especially if you are asking people or even companies to physically donate something. You can really just hope that seeing the message in your feed plants a seed in your brain to take action. In this case to go look in your drawers for your old smartphone, send an email round to your office and actually make a donation.

How can people get involved?

We are collecting phones over the next couple of weeks and any donation is very welcome. Every donation matters. Even if it’s just one phone. We’re making a drop in ‘the Jungle’ together with the CalAid team in a couple of weeks.

You can drop off or send us working smartphones with chargers: Refugee Phones, ground floor, 12 Soho Square W1D 3QF.

We are also arranging a testing night within the near future that anyone that wants to can come along and help, where we are putting in sim-cards, topping up and preparing the phones. The more the merrier! You can follow @refugee_phones on twitter or drop a note at hello@refugeephones.co.uk if your interested in volunteering, and please spread the message of our mission, to bring connectivity to those in need #refugeephones


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