Digital Geographies

Trauma apps and the making of the ‘smart’ refugee

A market for mental health apps, designed to help millions of refugees manage symptoms of Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder and other mental health issues, has proliferated since the outbreak of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015. These bite-size, on-the-go, mindfulness-based apps have emerged at the intersection of new investment models, state-of-the-art AI and surveillance and border control regimes. Conceived of as a more cost-effective approach to refugee mental health care, mental health apps are part of a larger endeavour to create the 'smart' refugee. Self-monitoring, agile, entrepreneurial and resilient in the face of adversity, the smart refugee is expected to emerge as a node in a network of information flow, constantly connected to digital technology, at once receiving and providing real-time data. Biometric and data markets, some of the fastest growing in the world, have already been eagerly collecting refugee fingerprints, iris scans, facial images and other genomic information. To add to this arsenal of data, the new apps are harvesting, storing and selling what I call the mental prints of refugee trauma, turning the human experience of loss, grief and suffering into quantifiable and marketable commodities.

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Volume 41 Issue 3

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