Amnesty International representatives and migrants rights activists will be participating.
Every year, thousands of people across Africa take long, expensive and dangerous journeys in search of safety and a better life elsewhere. Arriving in host countries such as Libya, their hopes are often shattered as they face arrest, indefinite detention, torture and other abuses – and they have no possibility to seek protection or remedy. As a consequence, many people embark on perilous sea voyages on unseaworthy vessels, without a proper crew or any safety equipment, in an attempt to reach Europe from North and West Africa. Attempting this potentially fatal journey is an excruciating personal decision, made to make life a little bit better for one's self and one's family. For many, it is the only way to escape from a life threatening situation.
Many never make it to Europe: they die at sea from dehydration or they drown. According to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, at least 1,500 men, women and children have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2011 alone. The real number is probably much higher.
Others never make it because they are intercepted by patrol boats and returned to the country from which they departed. If intercepted at sea and returned they will usually be considered “illegal” migrants, and face a real risk of arbitrary and prolonged detention, ill treatment and other human rights violations. As there is an almost complete lack of transparency surrounding many European countries’ border management practices and agreements with North and West African States, these violations along Europe’s borders go unchecked.
How could technology, applications and digital services make the invisible visible with regard to abuses faced by migrants and asylum seekers during the transit migration experience across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe? How could technology be used to support both migrants, their relatives and migrant support networks in a safe way, helping mitigate the risks and reduce the number of people who die each year?
- Aggregate and visualize data for advocacy: How can we make invisible crimes visible without putting migrants at risk?
Data collection is vital in order to have a full and comprehensive analysis of the factors that contribute to deaths and abuses faced my migrants along the southern borders of Europe. The lack of such data is a serious barrier to addressing governments to push for change and to determining the steps that need to be taken to mitigate and prevent these abuses and deaths. Currently, Europe operates sophisticated ‘smart’ border technologies including satellites and biometric databases but so far these technologies have not been used to the benefit of migrants. A recent case has shown that 63 people were left to die even though forensic analysts have shown that the drifting boat was likely known about by the authorities. This case came to light because 9 out of the 72 passengers survived and could share their horrific account. But what about all the boats and vessels who disappeared without a trace. What happened to them? And how can we find out? On other occasions, border authorities have turned boats back and delivered people straight into the hands of abuse, torture or detention in countries like Libya. How can we trace such abuse?
How can technology help plug the data gap and provide us with more reliable information about the experiences – and abuses - faced by migrants in these circumstances? How could technology applications (video, audio) be used to generate more evidence and testimony that can then be used to expose abuses and pressure the governments involved to stop migration policies and practices that violate human rights and to prosecute crimes committed against migrants?
- Could we facilitate a form of ‘check in’, which migrants can do from specific safe points on their journey? This may involve mobile phone technology but should also consider that migrants might not have phones, or batteries may die while at sea. Could we therefore create an alert system that does not require a person to be proactive?
- 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, 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?
Civil society organizations/networks:
The role for local migrant support networks and international organizations, including organizations like Medecins sans Frontieres, in countries in North and West Africa, will be important to consider.
Possible type of data a system could record:
State abuse: which state authorities did the person encounter? European state authorities? Authorities of the transit country?
Treatment during interception/return operations at sea
Numbers and routes
Abuses by smugglers
Being thrown back over the border (when not allowed even though they’re at risk)
2. Relative/family support and missing persons
Families experience what psychologists term ‘Ambiguous Loss’, which means that the status of a loved one is in question – unresolved. The grief process cannot start because the person is neither dead nor alive. Families often report debilitating fear and an inability to focus on daily tasks. At any point in their ‘normal’ day, their loved one could be suffering somewhere without help. The search often becomes all-consuming. And without an organized system for searching, families are left to do it alone.
Relatives and families are a key audience and are also more likely to have access to the web. How can we use existing social networks to connect up families with lost members on sea crossings? How could we create a high security database that loved ones of migrants could access in order to be sure their family member is safe, or to track back to where a boat was last seen?
- 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?
3. Information provision and distribution for migrants
Many people know they are risking their lives; they cross because of desperation and more information on risks would be unlikely to make a difference. On the other hand, there may be some people crossing for the first time and for whom it may be hard to conceive of the reality of the journey.
Many others are deliberately misled by smugglers/traffickers who give false information about the risks i.e. that it is just a day’s walk, etc.
Could we create a platform that communicates risks to migrants through information and visibility, better planning information - local advocacy organizations, telephone numbers, sea distress calls? Could we make it accessible for them to find out information on their rights in specific countries and at sea? e.g access to justice, support networks etc.
1) increase awareness of risks - how to get more accurate information available, in a secure and anonymous way
2) Increase awareness of rights, for example the right to claim asylum, the right not be sent back to a country where you are at risk of serious human rights violations, the right to explain why you want to leave a country and why you don’t want to go back (what are relevant laws, places to report abuse and how, knowing what they should be able to claim/demand of local authorities)
3) Increase awareness of help they can get along the way - where are safe routes, houses, telephone numbers, alert systems, rescue and distress.
‘It is better to die in the sea than return to Libya’
Fara Anam, Somali woman who arrived in Malta in July 2010 via Libya, interviewed as Hal far Reception Centre, Malta, September 2010
Documentary Closed Sea, trailer: http://www.zalab.tv/mare-chiuso-trailer
Kingsley is 23 years old and lives in a coastal village in Cameroon. One day he makes the decision to embark on his “mission” and travel to Europe, to improve life for himself and his family. Step by step, across desert and ocean, we come to see immigration through one man's eyes, and learn the rewards — and the costs — of such a dream. Documentary: Kingsley's Crossing http://mediastorm.com/publication/kingsleys-crossing
Amnesty International Campaign Digest: "Seeking safety, finding fear":
- 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?)
Ska Keller (MdEP of the Green Party) had the idea for this study that focusses on "intelligent borders", the costs, the technology - especially EUROSUR:
Check out amazing project "Forensic Oceanography", using a variety of technologies to reconstruct the events leading up to the death of 63 migrants at sea, in a boat that had departed from Libya. The report produced new evidence of European state's flagrant disregard of international human rights law in leaving the migrants to die. A collaboration between Situ Studio, Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani of the Center for Research Architecture: http://www.situstudio.com/blog/2012/04/10/forensic-oceanography-2/
We have contacts with migrants’ rights networks in Europe and North Africa. 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.