Refugee Technology: The Migration To Europe

Elliot TG
2 min readMay 4, 2017
FBI Director Comey’s Testimony, 3 May 2017

During FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony yesterday, he was asked point blank about vetting refugees in the US. The answer glossed over most of the process. His response to Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) covered only the FBI’s use of the US intelligence community. In reality, this is a multi-step process that involves the United Nations, State Department, and Department of Homeland Security. The process can take up to 2 years, even before a refugee reaches US soil. And the US isn’t bearing the brunt of the crisis. Europe is commanding a global effort to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers.

Digitizing migration
But what does the process actually look like? What tools are being used to register and process refugees and asylum seekers? There is a complex interplay between agencies and groups at every level. Local groups, aid agencies, national governments, and Europe as a whole coordinate closely. There are a variety of databases that store the information. Sometimes they are interoperable, sometimes not. Ongoing concerns about these databases include privacy, vulnerability to attacks, and linking data together to improve systems.

In this article from The Economist, they describe the technological footprint of the refugee crisis. Migrants are using the mobile phones to communicate with each other and with aid organizations. Governments and organizations use their own systems to track and process them. NGOs are providing technology education to help integrate new arrivals.

Europe is experiencing what Alexander Betts of Oxford University calls a “technological arms race”

Information and communications technology show up right through what researchers call the “refugee life-cycle”. People in northern Iraq use WhatsApp and Viber to talk to friends who have made it to Germany; UNHCR uses iris scans for identification in camps in Jordan and Lebanon; migrants on flimsy rubber boats in the Mediterranean use satellite phones provided by people-smugglers to call the Italian coastguard; and geeks in Europe teach refugees how to code so that they can try to get jobs. Aid groups must work out who needs their help. Governments must monitor their borders and keep track of arrivals.

In short, the technology for vetting and supporting migrants entering Europe is critical. At times it is robust. Other times it is not. It requires co-dependency from a variety of actors, and there is plenty of room for improvement.

Originally published on May 4, 2017.



Elliot TG

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