Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children are ill-treated, abducted or raped as they travel through Mexico without legal permission as irregular migrants. The vast majority are headed for the US border in the hope of new life far from the crippling poverty they are fleeing. Their journey is one of the most dangerous in the world. Arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials are common. Many simply disappear without trace, kidnapped and killed, or robbed, assaulted and thrown off speeding trains. For those who survive the extreme insecurity and dangers of the journey through Mexico, reaching the US border brings its own hazards. Increased US immigration enforcement in certain border areas has pushed undocumented immigrants to use particularly dangerous routes through the US desert; hundreds of people die each year as a result.
The devastating abuses that take place against migrants is a cross border issue, involving both the United States and Mexican societies. But currently, their deaths, like their lives, remain largely hidden from view. For the families back home, there is little hope of ever finding out what happened.
How could technology, applications and digital services make the invisible visible with regard to abuses committed against migrants, and be used to support both migrants and their networks in a safe way, helping mitigate the risks and reduce the number of people who die each year?
1. Aggregate and visualize data for advocacy: How can we make invisible crimes visible without putting migrants at risk?
- Could we create a simple, accessible digital system to provide a means for the networks of civil society organizations and shelters on the ground who could/can/are collecting and capturing data to aggregate and share this information?
- Could we facilitate a form of ‘check in’, which migrants can do from specific safe points on their journey?
- How could we collect this information in a manner that is safe and secure and does not put migrants at further risk?
- How could we capture more migrant stories/voices anonymously at these safe points, for use as testimony and to use for informing others who consider making the journey of the risks involved?
- How could we create anonymous visualizations based on these routes and stories for use in advocacy?
- Numbers and routes
- Abuses by smugglers
- Sexual violence
- Police and state abuse
- Being thrown back over the border (when not allowed even though they’re at risk)
- Documenting deaths
- Water points and shelters
- Could we develop a lo-fi, social web based missing and unidentified person system to provide more reliable information to families whose loved ones disappear?
- Could we create a platform that supports knowledge transfer, allowing for posting missing members, sightings, news and locations?
- Increase awareness of risks - how to get more accurate information available, in a secure and anonymous way
- Increase awareness of rights - what are local laws, places to report abuse and how, knowing what they should be able to claim/demand of local authorities
- Increase awareness of help they can get along the way - where are safe routes, houses, telephone numbers, alert systems, rescue and distress. Using maps, satellites, crowd-sourcing etc, alternative emergency service number?
A short & powerful photoessay capturing the stories of just a few migrants crossing Mexico:
Images & Stories from Amnesty International - Journeys of hope and fear: Migrants on the move in Mexico
Stories from the US side of the border: http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-in-hostile-terrain-human-rights-violations-in-immigration-enforcement-in-the-us-southwest?page=show
- Lack of access: Most migrants crossing Mexico will have almost no belongings; any phone in their possession will very likely be stolen early on in their journey. A major creative challenge in coming up with solutions to this problem will be seeking to find the ways that technology can support these individuals when they will not have access to technology on their person.
- Security & protection: While migrants face devastating human rights because of their vulnerability in the 'invisible' route across Mexico, we must seek to make these abuses visible whilst still guaranteeing protection of identity in order not to put people at further risk. Any data that is captured must be highly secure and where possible we should seeks systems that capture data anonymously whilst still allowing a family member or friend to search and find out where their loved one is on route (could we use a code/pin shared between a migrants contacts for example?)
We have contacts with migrants’ rights networks in Mexico and the US, several of whom will hopefully be at the RHoK event, and at the very least will have given us advice on our project specification. We will demo our project to them once we have a working prototype. We will take their feedback and iterate both externally and with internal stakeholders at Amnesty International until we have a project that is ready to be rolled out to the field. We would like ongoing support from the RHoK community and will be inviting collaborators to attend (either in person or virtually) at the global AI Digital Skills Share in London on the 5th July 2012.