PRIO and NCHS on the Refugee Crisis

‘Refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea’. Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Vito Manzari

PRIO and NCHS continue to engage with the refugee crisis, and contribute to analysis and an informed public debate on the issue.

Concerns over the massive and potentially unsecure registration and sharing of data on ‘vulnerable’ individuals

On November 4 2015, Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, Director of the NCHS and Senior Researcher at PRIO, participated in the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Summit on “The European Refugee Crisis: Data, Technology and Coordination”  at the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts in Brussels. The summit addressed topics related to the needs and gaps in current data collection and information gathering efforts, engaging with key humanitarian decision-makers, policy-makers, and civil society organizations to assess the current situation, and identify concrete mechanisms for improvement.

Particular focus was directed at how the lack of coordination between initiatives for data collection leads to duplication of efforts as well as confusion about where the information gap really is. It seems clear that the problem of data silos and inadequate information sharing continue in this crisis. The debate at the Summit also indicated that there is reason to be deeply concerned about the massive and potentially unsecure registration and sharing of data on ‘vulnerable’ individuals, in particular victims of sexual violence; whether it is undertaken by professional humanitarian actors or volunteers.

Gauging from the discussions at the Summit, it also became clear that while the humanitarian sector assumes that this is a humanitarian crisis, that view is not automatically shared by all responders. While the established humanitarian actors suggested that data management problems could be solved by general adherence to humanitarian principles and core humanitarian standards, it is unclear to what extent volunteer initiatives are familiar with this framework. It is also unclear to what degree the new grassroots outfits responding to the refugee crisis across Europe see themselves as humanitarian actors, as opposed to human rights workers, global solidarity activists or as engaged in more localized left grassroots politics. Moreover, despite the humanitarian sectors predilection for construing  problems of information sharing as a ‘humanitarian response gap’, the talk about humanitarian principles and standards should not obscure the fact that data collection, analysis, storing, sharing and destruction is subject to national and EU regulation: we are not in a state of exception.

EU asylum and border policies in the face of increased refugee flows

On October 7 2015, PRIO and NCHS Senior Researcher, Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert, spoke at an internal seminar at the Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy in Trondheim about the current situation along EU external borders, both at sea in the Mediterranean and on land routes. Maria discussed the drivers behind the conflict and displacement picture in the region, emphasizing the situations in Libya and Syria. Maria addressed the EU border surveillance and control mechanisms, taking a closer look at the transition from the Italian Operation Mare Nostrum to Operation Triton, which is carried out by the EU’s border security agency Frontex, as well as the broader policy responses of the EU in the last year. Particular attention was called to the challenges in using surveillance technologies for border control at sea, how these can contribute to search and rescue operations, in the context of calls for greater security at the borders as well as better protection of the migrants.

Perspectives on the causes and effects of migration

On 2 November 2015, Maria was also part of the table of panelists at the Migration seminar organized by the Foreign and Defense Committee of Stortinget (The Norwegian Parliament) and attended by members of Parliament. Together with the speakers Martin Lemberg-Pedersen and Poul Christian Matthiessen – both from the University of Copenhagen , Cecilie Hellestveit (ILPI), Morten Bøås (NUPI) and Jørgen Carling (also from PRIO), academic perspectives on the causes and effects of migration were brought into light, departing from a historical perspective showing how earlier refugee crises have been tackled, to shedding light on the current situation in the different countries people flee from, from Syria to West Africa, as well as on the complex reasons that push people to leave. Maria touched upon the possibilities and dilemmas of surveillance as a tool for search and rescue and how the EU has invested in border surveillance in the Mediterranean as a central tool to respond to a complex political issue, but to little effect. Understanding how these tools can best be used to respond to the current situation along the EU’s external borders will be crucial. The full seminar can be viewed here.