Despite numerous migrant waves through the decades, the current influx of refugees and asylum seekers into Europe has been framed by very specific narratives. From humanitarian calls for action to warnings of impending collapse, Europe thinks of itself under a crisis, at a political breaking point that justifies extreme discourses and measures.
The Refugee Spaces data project aims to stimulate and demystify the phenomena through examining the evidence rather than speculating on the so-called crisis. Through mapping and analysis of the openly available data provided by institutional and governmental sources, the platform attempts to spatialise the political and security measures designed to contain migration and the mobility of refugees.
We understand that migration and refuge are in a permanent state of flux, so this platform can only represent a snapshot of a specific period, in part constrained by reliability and availability of the data. Since we started this project, migration has played a more influential impact on political issues across Europe and the rest of the world, becoming sometimes the centrepiece of polarising campaigns and radical partisanship.
Brexit, the surprising success of populist agendas in some important national elections across Europe and elsewhere are just a few examples of how migratory issues have been used, and manipulated, for radical change. Security borders and sovereign intromission have expanded to Africa and Asia; the policing of the Mediterranean is now an established security regime; and humanitarian initiatives, to help refugees in peril, have been often criminalised.
In the following maps, the project shows a cartographical analysis of spatial responses and the administrative infrastructure brought by migration and refugees, stressing on the territorial relationships that associate mass movement with urban hotspots in four selected countries: France, Germany, Greece and Italy. Further countries can be added to the platform in the future. At the urban scale, the project identifies urban clusters/regions that are integral to current migration influxes, exploring their different strategies for reception and control.
Refugee Spaces has been funded by the 2016 Bartlett (UCL) Materialisation Grant. The project is a collaboration between the Development Planning Unit (DPU), Space Syntax Laboratory (the Bartlett School of Architecture), and the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA). The information presented on this platform is not intended to be a conclusion, but a departing point to track the spatial and economic impact of migration on European territories. We hope and anticipate that the output of this project could be used as a base for further research and collaborative work on European refugee and migration phenomena in future.“ The report, available to download, contains reflections and preliminary work done in preparation of the platform.
This project was created through a collaboration between the Development Planning Unit (DPU), Bartlett School of Architecture (BSA), and the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London. The project was funded through a Bartlett Materialisation Grant.
The project team included Camillo Boano, Giovanna Astolfo, Ricardo Marten, Falli Palaiologou, Keyvan Karimi, and Ed Manley, with Gala Nettelbladt, Tahmineh Hooshyar Emami and Asimina Paraskevopoulou.
The platform is a systematic repository of data on demography and cost made available by governments, international agencies and NGOs. Such data are integral to policy making, and strategic decision in humanitarian intervention. They posit plenty of methodological and ethical challenges around accessibility, consistency and validity. What follows is a sketch of the challenges in establishing a transparent methodological approach and data collection strategy for the project - and eventually, for an open access digital platform.
Data accessibility Easiest data categories to be accessed are national governments or NGOs statistics on asylum requests because they are listed in public records; however, data availability is not consistent across countries. For instance, there is a general lack of comprehensive updated data on the location of shelters, reception and accommodation centers in Europe. France has the most accurate compilation of information regarding location and governance of the centres – around 700 centres mapped within the national borders. In Italy we mapped a bit less than 300 centres, as the information regarding other centers is not collected nor disclosed. In Germany we mapped some 100 centres; despite wide accessibility of data, information available proved difficult to be compiled as migration management is highly decentralised.
Consistency in data collection methods. There is little consistency on the data nature, sampling and collection process in each country. Data on arrivals are collected at border; data on asylum requests and number of refugees are collected at the border and in the centres. Data have different time periods; they are used to interpret patterns in migration, but they can refer to change in border policy. Double counting is possible, as well as undercounting. Besides the inherent fragmentation of data sources and the heterogeneity of the systems of classification, these type of data sets are in constant flux, and such oscillations are not easily captured.
Validity of data visualisations. Data do not have a true fundament of scientificity that ultimately lead to a clear scenario. Researchers and activists have spent considerable effort in showing how miscalculations and double counting often occur, for instance in the case of data on sea arrivals. Monthly arrival figures are calculated based on Frontex data, the EU border agency that detects border crossing at sea (and land). Border crossing can be multiple (as people might attempt to cross a border more than once) resulting in an inflated account of the number of arrivals. An excess of faith in the scientific authority and unquestionability of data might end up in the uncritical reproduction of a biased narrative and the perpetuation of the myth of a “migratory invasion”.
Time Data and analyses presented in the platform cover different periods of time, depending on data availability and sources. In visualisations that examine the phenomenon looking at Europe by using national data (main sources: Eurostat, UNHCR), the datasets extend from 2010 to 2015, except Frontex which goes till 2017. In visualisations that focus on the regional and/or urban level of analysis and which refer to country-specific data for Germany, Greece, France and Italy, the periods covered by the datasets vary and are case-specific. For the reception systems of Germany, France the most complete dataset is collected for year 2015 (for Italy is 2017). Data from 2015 are far more consistent, accurate and complete compared to either 2014 and 2016 – for different reasons. For reception in Greece, the most complete dataset available is for year 2017.
Scale Data were collected at four scales (continental, national, regional and urban) depending on the availability and combining a mixture of wider databases and specialised sources. Most of datasets are aggregated at national scale reflecting an abstract centralised representation. The privileging of the nation as the natural scale of analysis is one of the inbuilt biases of statistics that generates the greatest level possible of simplification. When possible, the project attempts to disaggregate national data at the urban level to better understand the actual impact of migration and refuge.
Centres Given the diversity of administrative devices and technical and humanitarian measures aimed at containing and – most of the times - immobilising refugees and migrants, the platform wishes to comprehensively include all premises where refugees and asylum seekers are accommodated, detained or in transit. Denominations are different in each country and reflect each country’s policy. The centres shown in the platform are permanent ones, open and operative at the time of the research.
Location Not all the data gathered is suitable to be spatialized at the urban level – either due to sensitivity of the information (and related ethical implications) as well as inherent complexity of disaggregating national data at the small scale. Tracking down the location of the centres for reception or detention, can expose refugees to risk of being persecuted. To avoid this, and as a fundamental measure, the exact address of the centre is not disclosed in any maps shown in the platform.
Statistical data tell us how many people have arrived or are hosted in a country; the higher or the lower number over a specific period; they never say why they’ve arrived in first place or where they want to go, what are the individual migration projects, or the level of vulnerability of the single subjects. The use of statistics overlooks singularity and specificity, reducing complexity and fluidity of migration into manageable, comprehensible facts and figures.
By simplifying migrant population through specific indicators, it’s possible to circumvent the need to acquire broader detailed local and qualitative insight. This blindness to local variability is precisely what should make statistics potentially offensive. Turning migration into numerical aggregates and averages dehumanises individuals, and ultimately strips them of their rights. In this sense, data are useful to depoliticise migration and refuge, creating a distorted image and perception of migration.
For this reason, the project considers essential to include descriptive and qualitative documents (see download area) that allow, as far as possible, to add information layer that is often missing in maps and graphs.
Finally, the use of data analytics raises several questions related to the responsible management of personal information, especially of vulnerable groups, such as refugees.
The project is based on a composite multi-source analysis. The information stored in the platform is taken from diverse sources: official reports from Interior Ministries, the European Commission and international bodies including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), reports by civil society (at the international, regional, national or local level), field investigations (interviews, visits, etc.) and press articles.
Our main sources for statistical datasets are, so far, Eurostat and UNHCR. The use of different sources to analyse a single variable can present difficulties, for the coherence of calculations done based on data registered to develop the maps. For example, in relation to the same variable, the figures published by the Eurostat agency on the number of refusals of entry per year for a given country sometimes differ from those provided by the Interior Ministry of that country or those gathered by an NGO. While it is sometimes difficult to harmonise different sources, we have agreed on a hierarchy of sources for the database.
Regarding the information recorded on the “country” data-sheets (annual figures on arrivals, refugees/asylum seekers in the centres, etc.), the first sources are figures from European bodies (Eurostat, European Commission, etc.), since in principle efforts to harmonise data have already been undertaken by these bodies. Where these are not available or enough, we use the figures provided by national bodies (Interior Ministries, etc.).
Given the limited data availability on centres’ location, this map does not provide useful insights in terms of the spatialisation of reception in urban and rural areas in Germany. Instead, it highlights gaps in datasets, as well as the differences in terms of open-access transparency of the reception governance systems – both across the country’s regions and when comparing Germany to the other case studies.
The map shows centres’ location - urban or rural - for year 2016, based on Eurostat classification of spatial units:
and remaining centres as rural areas. The location is approximate, showing the town where the centre is located. For the Eurostat classification of spatial units see here.
The Königssteiner Schlüssel - a federal quota system - is used to allocate refugees according to tax revenues and total population, for year 2016. Numbers show distribution percentages for federal states out of a total of 100,00000%.
Upon arrival via land or air, refugees are registered at any of the closest reception centre and subsequently proportionately distributed across the Federal States following a specific quota system (known as Königssteiner Schlüssel) for allocating refugees according to tax revenues and total population of the respective Federal State. This has not been without criticism. The Königssteiner Schlüssel had initially been an instrument for the distribution funds of research institutions between the national government and the Federal States and thus has been declared unsuitable as mechanism of reception for refugees. For example, due to the nature of this distribution system, large cities experience a higher burden, as it does not consider factors such as higher population densities, particular housing conditions or secondary migration patterns.
The map shows centres’ capacity for year 2016. Where the value is ‘0’ data is not available.
Generally, reception centres can be categorised following a two-tier system. Firstly, asylum seekers are accommodated in initial reception centres, managed by the federal states. Secondly, they are transferred to communal centres or decentralised accommodation, which are in turn administered by municipalities. The state of Bavaria provides an exceptional case, where the different administrative regions oversee the second stage of accommodation, and not the municipalities. The city states of Berlin and Hamburg form another exception, where a one-tire system is in place, and the administration of the federal state is in charge of all accommodation.
Initial Reception Centres (Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen, EAE): regional centres created and managed by the federal states. The initial reception centre is usually the place where the asylum application is filed. Officially, asylum seekers live there for up to six weeks, but no longer then six months.
Communal accommodation (Gemeinschaftsunterkünfte) or decentralised housing (dezentrale Unterkünfte): housing at the level of municipalities (Kommunen). After registration and a first stay at the initial reception centre, asylum seekers are distributed to municipalities within the state, according to other quota systems, differing in each state. Accordingly, the types of accommodation can also vary greatly and can range from large communal accommodations to rented flats. This has been criticised in a report for the Robert Bosch Foundation, calling for a common, transparent and accountable distribution system in municipalities across the Federal States
Emergency Shelters: Since the peak of migration in the summer of 2015, many EAEs as well as communal accommodations have been created almost from scratch. Due to the large influx and lack of capacities, use was made of gyms and vacant residential buildings. In addition, tents and lightweight construction halls were erected to accommodate the asylum seekers.
Since 2015, it is further important to note two other category of centres:
The Federal States are responsible for detention, including detention pending deportation (Abschiebungshaft). In accordance with German law, detention is only ordered once an asylum application has been rejected. National law merely provides basic rules for detention facilities. Consequently, the conditions vary greatly.
The map shows centres’ typology for reception centres and housing projects, open or under construction in year 2016. The location is approximate, showing the town where the centre is located.
The reception conditions of refugees in Germany are determined by the legal framework shaping the asylum process (Asylverfahrensgesetz). While the national government holds responsibilities for providing the overall legislation and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) oversees the asylum procedure, the 16 Federal States (Länder) are exclusively in charge of implementing the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act (Asylbewerberleistungsgesetz). That is, the Federal States hold the competences in providing accommodation and coverage of basic needs. As they have traditionally resolved the issues of new arrivals through different measures (e.g. accommodation standards, support on site), the circumstances and capacities of reception facilities can vary significantly. Consequently, there has been no common policy around reception centres and it is not possible to generalise the actual reception situations, especially regarding the number of facilities, capacity and occupancy. Further, the different Federal States have diverging policies on how to collect and publish data on reception centres. Consequently, across the country there is no comparable information available on the specific conditions of reception. Still, tracing the legal framework of reception in Germany, it is possible to characterise the reception system as follows.
Since 2015 policy is changing at a fast pace, whereby the German state is introducing new laws, essentially immobilising asylum seekers. With regards to reception centre, the following measures are important to mention. In October 2015 the so called Asylum Package I (Asylverfahrensbeschleunigungsgesetz, or short: Asylpaket I) was passed, which aimed at ‘speeding up’ the asylum process. The new policies essentially reintroduced the deterrence measures applied in the 1990s, when Germany experienced its last substantial increase of asylum seekers, following the civil war in Ex-Yugoslavia. Instead of formally three months, now asylum seekers have to spend up to six months in initial reception centres (Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen, EAEs). Refugees from so-called ‘safe countries of origins’ can be required to spend the duration of their entire asylum procedure at an EAE.
During the stay in the EAEs, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and only receive non-cash benefits in many federal states, which hinders a self-determined way of life. It is usually not possible to be accommodated outside an EAE. If asylum seekers already have family members living in Germany, they may not move into proximity with them. Further, victims of abuse or particularly vulnerable people, like women or children, are equally obliged to stay in EAEs.
In addition, the immobility of asylum seekers is enhanced through an extension of the so-called residence obligation (Residenzpflicht), which can now also last until up to six months. The Residenzpflicht requires asylum seekers to remain in an assigned district (Landkreis). This denial of freedom of movement had previously been abolished in 2014, but has now been re-introduced. In case the asylum seeker leaves the assigned district without authorisation, a fine of 2,500 Euros can be charged. In case of a second offence, a one-year prison sentence is possible.
Furthermore, following the new Integration Act (Integrationsgesetz), which was issued in July 2016, the so-called domicile requirement (Wohnsitzauflage) was introduced. It is linked with social benefits, meaning that those asylum seekers, or even already recognised refugees who are on social benefits, cannot chose their place of residence, e.g. if they do not have a job offer at the preferred place of residence. At the moment, the domicile requirement is only implemented by the state of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.
Lastly, in February 2016, the Asylum Package II (Einführung beschleunigter Asylverfahren, or short: Asylpaket I) was passed, further tightening asylum legislation. It introduced so-called ‘special reception centres’ (besondere Aufnahmeeinrichtungen) in which asylum seekers from ‘safe countries of origin’, asylum seekers who file a second application and refugees who either destroyed their documents, or are assumed to have done so, can be kept in in order to accelerate their asylum procedure. Only two of them have been established in 2016 in Bamberg and Manching/Ingoldstadt.
The very nature of Germany’s reception system renders generating nation-wide data about reception centres very difficult: Federal States hold the competences in providing accommodation and coverage of basic needs. As they have traditionally resolved the management of new arrivals through different measures, the circumstances and capacities of reception facilities can vary significantly. Further, the different Federal States have diverging policies on how to collect and publish data on reception centres. Thus, across the country there is no comparable information available on reception arrangements.
Information about the EAEs was generated through the consultation of the Länder’s website or in direct correspondence with the respective press offices during May and June 2017. However, this information only generates a partial overview, as it was not possible to obtain data from all Federal States.
All the data gathered by this project are available to download. Please select a dataset from the dropdown below to see its description.