Modernizing Migration Measures: Combining Survey and Tracking Data Collection Among Asylum-Seeking Refugees

Research question/goal: 

Collecting information about refugees is necessary to guide policymakers in creating sustainable integration concepts and to increase the scientific understanding of migration and integration processes in general. However, interviewing refugees face-to-face in immigration reception centres and then following them in a longitudinal study can be difficult due to the high mobility of the population. In this project, we examined whether applying smartphone technology can alleviate these problems.

Against this background, we conducted personal interviews with 529 Arabic- and English-speaking refugees living in residences for temporary accommodation in three districts of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. We then invited the respondents to participate in four mobile web surveys and to install a research app on their smartphone – which passively collected data on the approximate location of the smartphone and on Internet and app usage on the smartphone – over the course of three months.

We found that 94 per cent of refugees owned a smartphone—a mobile device penetration rate that is higher than that of the general population in Germany. Smartphone ownership was correlated neither with sociodemographic characteristics nor with level of education and asylum status. Initially, about one quarter of the refugees who provided us with contact information in the personal interviews participated in the first mobile web survey one month later. However, in subsequent waves of the mobile web survey, we saw substantial attrition. Only five percent of the eligible refugees installed our research app. Low reading proficiency was significantly correlated with survey non-participation.

While the findings of our study underscore previous empirical evidence that smartphones play a crucial role in the lives of refugees in the host country, there are limits to how researchers can use them for longitudinal data collection. It proved challenging to obtain a sufficiently large sample for the research app and attrition rates in the mobile web surveys were high. Although we limited the amount of data and the granularity of information collected via passive measurement, refugees might perceive this type of data collection as too invasive.

Fact sheet

2016 to 2020
Data Sources: 
Primary data collection
Geographic Space: