[WATCH] ‘Big data’ observatory sets out to map complex migratory patterns

Mediterranean Observatory on Migration, Protection and Asylum will gather data to advance research and policy development on migration

Prof. Brad Blitz, professor of international relations at Middlesex University. Photo and Video by Ray Attard
Prof. Brad Blitz, professor of international relations at Middlesex University. Photo and Video by Ray Attard

Video is unavailable at this time.

Middlesex University has established a new observatory for migratory flows in Malta that will be gathering a host of data on movements and patterns in sea crossings, to aid policymakers.

Together with the private search and rescue organisation MOAS (Malta Offshore Aid Station), the Mediterranean Observatory on Migration, Protection and Asylum will be collecting real-time data on crossings and from rescued migrants.

“Our aim is to inform and hopefully shed light on this most complex and tragic set of circumstances,” Prof. Brad Blitz said.

The extraordinary flows of ‘boat people’ crossing the Mediterranean in 2015 has thrown into relief the challenges of providing humanitarian protection to vulnerable refugees and migrants, while ensuring effective border management.

With the help of its students aboard the MOAS vessel Phoenix, which is currently operating in the Libyan search and rescue region beneath the area monitored by the EU’s Triton mission, MOMPA will gather data and act as a clearing-house to advance the coordination of research, advocacy and policy development on the Mediterranean, regarding the management of migration and asylum throughout the European region.

10 students from Middlesex University will be aboard the Phoenix mapping rescue operations, and using footage and collecting human stories as a way of grouping together all the data there is available.

Brigadier Martin Xuereb, from MOAS, said he hoped the data collected will be a  factor in influencing the discourse on migration. “MOAS will feed into this data as well as feed off this data… our organisation feels it has to be out there mitigating the crossing for those who feel compelled to make it. We see ourselves as a nimble organisation when it comes to saving lives at sea.”

Other speakers at Tuesday’s launch included senior lecturer in international humanitarian law Dr Anthony Cullen, who spoke of the well established principles of non-refoulement and saving lives at sea. “The UN’s Law of the Sea lays down mandatory obligations for effective search and rescue system from member states… but although the primary role of SAR lies with states there is also an obligation from other actors to carry out this duty.”

Dr Ian Greatbatch, senior lecturer in search and rescue, said the data collection will be used to formulate maps, patterns of routes, and hopefully be used to influence EU decision-making on migration.

“Information provided to policy-makers can influence the way decisions are taken,” Prof. Blitz said, having dubbed the EU’s decision-making “reactionary”. “Historically the EU has been slow in response to complex situations, which is why early wrnin systems can help in this situation.”

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