These Refugees Document Their Trip to TikTok

With the arrival of the platform, asylum seekers usually filmed and shared their migration journey there. To document their journey and inform their families.

Focusing on his face in a red tie, which he rarely lets go, Khaled Suleiman, a 24-year-old Syrian refugee, enters a tiktok departing from Beirut on November 8, 2021. Holding his passport, he declares in Arabic, “I’m on my way to Minsk, Belarus.”

In fact, as soon as he gets on the plane that will take him 2,300 kilometers, he is happy with the seat assigned to him. “I’m very happy to be by the window because I can see Beirut during takeoff,” he says, positioning himself on a plane chartered by Belarusian airline Belavia.

An aspiring model and actress

Khaled was a refugee in Lebanon for seven years after refusing to serve in Syria, a country torn by civil war and where nearly 500,000 people have died, according to the Syrian Human Rights Observatory. Bridge between Beirut and Minsk at the end of 2021.

At his expense, the young man would then become a pawn in the hybrid war that the then leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, decided to lead against the European Union, massaging thousands of asylum seekers on the border with Poland, a few months before the war. Refugee crisis in Ukraine.

But when he posts videos of his journey on Tiktok, Khaled still doesn’t realize that he will be close to death twice during his journey. His publications, documenting his journey from Beirut to Amsterdam, will lead him to build a strong community of 16,000 subscribers.

The young man contacted by describes in detail the motives of his activity on this social network. From an external perspective, his profile is above all an unprecedented testimony to the humanitarian crisis that shook Eastern Europe in November 2021. But for Khaled, an actor and aspiring flight attendant, it’s also a way to become famous.

“First of all I want to be an actor, this is my talent! To become popular, I like Tiktok better than YouTube as its algorithm allows for better visibility. After that, I also wanted to advise people who want to make the same journey as me.” I’ve already taken it – he explains on the phone. From a refugee camp near Amsterdam.

“There are other films that are not directly related to my refugee status. In some of them I introduce myself to entertain my viewers and show that I’m open!” to find out.

“We Syrians are a civilized nation.”

And so in a film shot in a forest on the Belarusian-Polish border we see him walking among the trees, with black tangles on his head, in a padded shirt and trousers, and to the background of electronic music. At the same time pointing out the circumstances in which his journey takes place.

In the introduction, he explains, “From where we are now, I’ve decided to do a fashion show about what an immigrant who goes to the woods wears and what clothes can protect him from the cold.”

His red tie, which he never took off, is meant to “send a message to Europeans and the whole world”: “We Syrians are a civilized nation and wearing a tie symbolizes a minimum of civility and class.” not a barbarian and we don’t want to be a problem for the people and the local authorities,” he explained in another video.

Reporting his migration to Tiktok is not Khaled’s only truth. While exploring the platform, many users offer to dive into their journey. This is the case of Azar Al-Tunisi, whose profile was checked by our colleagues from shame. According to him, his films first appear squeezed into a makeshift boat crossing the sea before reaching Italy, where he depicts the roads. a bit further Place de Trocadero We find him in Paris and then in Essonne with the RER.

Other accounts are responsible for collecting and publishing videos from the Internet. Maxim* spent a year with Afghan refugees in Istanbul as part of university work. This made him understand the major role Tiktok played in this population.

He points out that “Tiktok is a way to exchange images of a migrant journey among Afghan refugees, for example crossing the desert to reach Iran. There are many sounds, symbols and images of the Afghan flag in these movies…”.

Analysis shared by Lee Komeito, Professor Emeritus of Information and Communications at University College Dublin: “Social networks like Tiktok enable immigrants to stay connected with loved ones wherever they are. based on visual content, you can strongly affirm that you belong to the community.

“Thanks to these kinds of practices, immigrants feel that they are always involved in the daily lives of their loved ones,” he adds.

Low-supervised platforms

But for a professor who has worked with the European Commission on the role social networks play in migrant integration, platforms like Tiktok can also be dangerous due to their poor regulation.

“On Tiktok, migrants have access to information they need, but which can relate to illegal topics such as border crossing. However, these platforms do not provide simple means of verification. Trading without any prior verification mechanism, Komeito warns me.

In June 2021, British Home Secretary Priti Patel pointed the finger at Tiktok, the platform on which she accused smugglers of “doing magic” on the Channel crossing, it reported at the time. daily mail.

The Secretary of State specifically mentioned the case of a video, viewed more than 800,000 times prior to its removal, of migrants crossing the canal in boats, camera pointed at sunset, with catchy background music.

Survival Tips

A case known to Khaled, a young immigrant who documented his entry into Europe from Belarus. What does he want to treat? “In Belarus I almost died twice in the forest,” he says. “One because I didn’t have to drink, the other because I nearly drowned in the river.”

“I don’t want those who follow me to repeat my mistakes, so I teach them how to survive in the jungle without hiding from them that they risk losing their lives,” explains Al-Suri.

“The conditions in the Belarusian camp were terrifying,” he continues. “That’s why I say in my films that I should try legal immigration measures, especially for families. I also explain that you should never resort to smugglers.”

In France, many associations contacted by did not respond to requests for interviews on the subject or indicated that they were not aware of the phenomenon. “We have no information about this,” writes Frans Ter de Asely.

A dream to become an actor

Khaled now posts videos about his new life in the Netherlands on his account. With the idea of ​​explaining to subscribers “how to behave in a new society, but also breaking down the image of refugees that some should show that we can be “normal” citizens.

He even plans to make short scenes, the one who studied theater and dreams of becoming an actor. While waiting for glory, a young man in his Dutch refugee camp made a puppet show for children.

* Name has changed

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