By: Johan Lammers
In times of travel bans and Brexit, as a foreign student from The Netherlands where the polls are led by a party whose official stance on immigration is literally ‘zero asylum seekers extra and no more immigrants from Islamic countries; border closed’, migration is never far from my thoughts and conversations. In this blogpost, I would like to give an idea of why migration is worthy of our growing concern in the interconnected, digitalized ‘Age of Information’. In doing so, I also set the scene for the upcoming annual Conflict, Security and Development Conference happening on the 3rd of March 2017 on this issue with the title ‘Crossing Borders: Technology and Migration in an Interconnected World’.
The UN documents over 243 million migrants around the world, or 3.3% of world population. Between 2014-2016, EuroStat recorded over 3 million first-time asylum requests to the EU; in the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Lebanon, refugees make up 43%, 36% and 27% of the population. While the concept of a smartphone did not exist at the end of the Cold War, 37% of the world population is expected to own one in 2020; a 2015 survey found that close to 86% of the Syrian youth in a refugee camp in Jordan did. Unsurprisingly, both strongly upward trends have an influence on each other. Migrant and host communities are increasingly interconnected through constant and abundant live information. This increasingly blurs the lines that divide consumers and producers of generated news and public opinion about ongoing conflicts. The emergence of physical and virtual information and communication networks have an endogenous reinforcing effect and facilitate an unprecedented flow of people and ideas.
However, these flows are far from uncontrollable as numerous stakeholders with varying if not directly opposing interests seek to manage, coordinate or exploit this modern phenomenon of (forced) migration in an interconnected world. Whereas the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees seeks to manage global databases in camps based on biometric registrations, border police are using drones for monitoring. Separated families can remain in touch or even reunite across vast distances. Expectation management for aspiring migrants, educational information and preparing for integration greatly benefit from a wealth of online data, programs and apps. Meanwhile, migrants risk entire livelihoods based on the best practices, rumours and accounts of strangers via Facebook groups.
In addition to these parallel mechanisms that make up the interaction between technology and migration, single mechanisms do not have a uniformly beneficial or harmful effect. Does technology hamper the capacity of human traffickers through increased transparency in their practices, or does it provide them with unchecked informal advertising platforms and viral mouth-to-mouth networks? How does the constant feed of real-time available media material influence both mutual perceptions of migrant and host communities and the political climates that result for their political representatives?
Hence, a proper understanding of migration and technology cannot come from merely a single perspective but requires multiple lenses. Yet neither is it merely a ‘problem’ that should be ‘solved’, without also discussing the opportunities to be seized.
During the Conflict, Security and Development Conference on the 3rd of March 2017, we will address several of these issues by bringing together academics, NGOs, policymakers, journalists, entrepreneurs and migrants for discussion. Through this forum, we seek to compare and contrast how these combined perspectives provide an idea of what the current challenges and opportunities are, and how these integrated trends are likely to develop in the years to come.
In our first panel, we bring together migrants-turned-activists and entrepreneurs to identify how modern technologies have a personal impact on a migrant’s experiences, but also how businesses emerge to employ migrants and cater towards particular needs of these emerging target audiences. Our second panel discusses how NGOs and other migration managers seek to employ technologies to coordinate these flows of peoples. Our third panel considers what policy implications modern, digitalized migrants might have, and how technologies can be instrumentalized towards advancing these aims.
More information on how to buy tickets, our speakers’ profiles, and the schedule for the day can be found on our website. Payment: The conference welcomes all audiences, though students from the University of London can attend at a reduced fee.
Beheshti-Kashi, Samaneh, Makki, Baharak (2013), ‘Social Media News: Motivation, Purpose and Usage’, International Journal of Computer Science & Information Technology, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.97-105
The author is pursuing his MA in Conflict, Security and Development at King’s College London. This piece was submitted by the 2017 Conflict, Security and Development Conference organisers as an advertisement for the annual student-led CSD Conference. You can buy tickets here.
Image source: http://www.wnyc.org/story/a-harrowing-journey-into-europe-aided-by-apps-and-internet-access/