War, violence, human rights abuses, and natural and man-made disasters, in combination with other mediating and individual factors, will continue to influence how people move: whether forcibly displaced, seeking international protection or aspiring to improved livelihoods for themselves and their families. Advancements in technology and communication, climate change, and the increasing global polarization of thought and belief are some of the phenomena that not only impact migratory movements, but also increase the demand for innovative, effective, and rights-compliant solutions that help governments and societies manage migration and aid those in need. Such solutions should be conceived, developed, and implemented in full compliance with foundational values of the European Union – including respect for dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, democracy and the rule of law.
These are some of the key takeaways of the international, hybrid ITFLOWS Policy Conference, which took place in Brussels and online on June 21 and 22, 2022. During the two-day conference, a variety of stakeholders – policymakers at national and European Union (EU) level, civil society representatives of the civil sector, journalists, and researchers – engaged in productive dialogue about innovative tools and comprehensive measures for migration and asylum reception and management.
Cristina Blasi Casagran, ITFLOWS Project Coordinator and Ignacio Montiel-Sanchez, ITFLOWS Project Officer, European Research Executive Agency, welcomed the conference participants. They explained the ITFLOWS project’s role in addressing some of the most pressing challenges that policy makers and first respondents face, such as lack of human and financial resources and of instruments that could allow them to plan and implement working policies.
The Opening Keynote Speech was delivered by Mr. Giulio M. Mancini, PhD, European Commission Directorate-General Migration & Home Affairs, who explained how the project fit within the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Programme. He pointed to the potential of the ITFLOWS project, and encouraged its Consortium to continue its work as well and maximize the diffusion of its results.
Participants in Panel I, entitled, “Acting upon the multidimensional drivers of migration: which policy implications for EU engagement with origin and transit countries?” and moderated by Asli Okyay, Istituto Affari Internazionali, reflected on the ways to improve cooperation on mixed migration governance between the EU and third countries. Vis-à-vis transit countries, a forward-looking approach was discussed, including improved legal pathways and protection systems. Firstly, policy implications for the EU were identified, and secondly, in seeking to move away from irregular migration prevention and rather look towards effective migration management, it explored ways to enhance policy coherence at the EU level.
The first conference session was followed by a demonstration of the EUMigraTool – the main technological output of the ITFLOWS project – by Georgios Stavropoulos, Centre for Research & Technology, and Haithem Afli, Munster Technological University. Haithem Afli began by introducing the ITFLOWS Users Board, composed of practitioners, NGOs and municipalities working in the field of migration and integration. He explained the Users Board’s main role to provide valuable feedback to allow for perfecting and completing the EUMigraTool. Then, Georgios Stavropoulos presented the trial version of the tool itself, clarifying its main functionalities and the sources of data the instrument uses to generate predictions.
Panel II, led by Lenka Dražanová, European University Institute, explored, “Root causes and factors contributing to possible tensions between migrants and EU citizens.” The speakers agreed that good policy should be research-inspired and evidence-based, ideally crafted through consultations with all involved actors. It noted that respect for human rights, dignity, and rule of law should be at the center of national and EU migration and integration policies. Speakers and participants discussed at length the risks posed by new technologies and AI instruments, highlighting the need to design and use human-centered technology and algorithms with safeguards and monitoring in place to ensure human rights compliance and protect vulnerable populations.
Panel III, concluding day one of the conference, was moderated by Sergio Carrera, Centre for European Policy Studies, and focused on “Relocation and secondary movement within the EU.” The panel pointed out how slow relocation mechanisms within the EU facilitate uncoordinated and individual secondary movements of migrants. The participating experts pointed to the flaws in the Dublin system and how an efficient relocation mechanism is an essential tool in receiving migrants and asylum seekers. Speakers noted that long-term solutions based on solidarity and/or burden-sharing have been sought, but rarely achieved in practice and, if so, implemented on a small scale. It described the ways in which the New Pact on Migration and Asylum should incorporate effective mechanisms for relocation.
The second conference day began with the Panel IV, “Asylum seeker, refugee and migrant socio-economic rights and integration in the EU,” moderated by Colleen Boland, Autonomous University of Barcelona. This session explored how inconsistencies and insecurities in various asylum systems and processes within the EU can impact refugee socioeconomic rights and integration. A major takeaway included the need for integration policies tailored to specific needs, particularly to vulnerable populations. The panel also pointed to the costs of exclusion and through traumatic experiences will be integrated within the host society, without receiving proper assistance. Thus, when designing public policies, the ordeals of these people and their specific needs should be taken account, as exclusion is always costlier.
Panel V was moderated by Alexandra Xanthaki, Brunel University London and focused on “IT Tools predicting migratory flows and human rights.” The participating experts explored the multiple challenges predictive technology in the field of migration pose to human rights. They agreed that, on one hand, migration prediction facilitates planning, which might actually enable better addressing of migrants’ rights. While accurate predictions were a difficult task, improved knowledge and knowledge-sharing could allow for better reception of migrants by humanitarian actors. On the other hand, the panel stressed the risk that an overemphasis of security and technology poses to human rights protections.
The closing session, composed of remarks from the rapporteurs of each session, reiterated the importance of the research-policy nexus and emphasized need for closer cooperation among all parties working in the fields of migration and integration or societal cohesion.
The ITFLOWS Consortium extends a sincere thanks to all the conference participants and discussants that engaged in this fruitful knowledge exchange. You can access the Materials for the Policy Conference on the ITFLOWS website.