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.).
In Greece, and especially in the two main cities, Athens and Thessaloniki, finding shelter and accommodation for refugees in dignified housing (collectives, apartments, etc) has been render crucial. The NRC report for Thessaloniki offers comprehensive information on the development of an urban house scheme process in an effort to respond to the challenges that cities face. In several cases squatting and occupation of buildings, those most of the time supported by the Greek anarchist movement, have provided shelter for persons in the main urban areas of the city, allowing for access both to services, transportation, as well as educational and language lessons, in order to promote integration (for a list of squats in Athens last updated in June 2016 please follow: Several squats since 2016 have either closed, been evacuated or failed to adhere to their goals. One of the squats in Athens, however, that has been publicized widely as a successful squatting collective and best practice, is the “Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space City Plaza”.
The map shows centres’ location - urban or rural - for year 2017, based on Eurostat classification of spatial units:
The location is approximate, showing the town where the centre is located. For the Eurostat classification of spatial units see here.
As of January 2017, 64 reception facilities run by Ministry of Migration Policy, Ministry of Defence, Hellenic Army and Hellenic Navy and supported by NGOs provided a total 1896 places dedicated to asylum seekers under the coordination of the National Center for Social Solidarity (EKKA). The vast majority of the spaces were dedicated to unaccompanied minors, that as of January 2017 were either accommodated in long-term and transit shelters, some were in closed reception facilities (RIC), while some were detained in police stations (protective custody). The reception capacity was increased due to the Accommodation for Relocation Project (UNHCR in cooperation with municipalities and other NGOs) since additional 20000 accommodation places were made gradually available, dedicated initially to relocation candidates and since July 2016 extended to Dublin family reunification candidates and applicants belonging to vulnerable groups. The reception capacity of the 64 reception facilities was enhanced by the creation of temporary accommodation sites (mainly in the mainland).
The reception centers (hotspots) on the islands, accommodate individuals subject to the EU-Turkey statement. Most of them suffer from overcrowding, insufficient security and tensions between nationalities.
The map shows centres’ capacity for year 2017. Where the value is ‘0’ data is not available.
In 2015, Greece experienced unprecedented migratory flow, since a shift in the migration route was observed coming to Greece through Turkey. This resulted in the creation of new centers (reception, detention and host facilities) both in the islands and mainland of Greece. According to UNHCR profiling of sites as of January 2017 the operating centers in Greece were 54. However, the number of operating centers (those including Reception and Identification Centers RIC, Transit sites and Emergency Response Sites) has been varying and changing due to the temporality of the sites’ operational status. As of 21 February 2017 and according to data published by the Coordination Body for the Management of Refugee Crisis, the number of Temporary Refugee Accommodation sites to the whole Greece was 32 (excluding RIC, transit sites and detention centers).
The map shows centres’ typology in English, for year 2017. The location is approximate.
Greece as a first country of entry pursuant to the Dublin Regulation (EU Regulation No. 604/2013) and due to its geographic location has experienced a large number of migrants attempting to enter the EU. The European Court of Human Rights and Court of Justice of the EU in 2011 “found that Greece’s asylum system suffers from ‘systemic deficiencies’, including lack of reception centers, poor detention conditions, and the lack of an effective remedy.” The Greek Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection submitted to plans to the European Commission and the Council of the EU, in order to address the above ‘systemic deficiencies’ related to asylum, including actions for creating first-reception centers, establishing screening procedures, addressing detention conditions, and improving facilities for families with children and vulnerable groups.
In 2011, the adoption of the Law 3907/2011 was achieved as part of the first Action Plan on Asylum and Migration Management (submitted in 2010).
Additional laws that formulate the current legal framework in Greece, for on site operation of the Centers include:
Since August 2012, patterns of arrivals and entry into the European Union have shifted from the Greek-Turkish land borders to the sea borders. Official statistics approximately 3223 persons were arrested for illegal entry in Lesvos, Samos, Chios and generally the Dodecanese region, only during the first five months of 2013, showing a significant increase to arrivals at the islands when compared to 188 persons arrested at the islands for the same period in 2012. While the number of arrests was increased in the islands, the same number was significantly decreasing at the Evros region highlight the aforementioned shift and raised the concerns on the dangerous passage of persons arriving by the sea which has been marked by deaths.
During the unprecedented influx in summer 2015 and beginning of 2016, a systemic recording, reporting and monitoring of site profiles was difficult. This has to do with the fact that not only several emergency response sites opened so as to meet the increasing needs of refugees and migrant accommodation, first reception services, but also in most cases the sites operated under poor conditions, quality of services provided, extreme density conditions (overcrowding), as well as limited capacity and number of staff on the ground. During the same period, and due to the lack of available spaces for accommodation of new arrivals several informal sites and settlements were established in strategic locations in Greece (Idomeni camp and EKO Gas station/Polykastro in Northen Greece, Pireus Port and Victoria Square in Athens), which operated for short period and reporting of capacity was rendered impossible. The above settlements were established during the time of closure of the Greek border in Macedonia (March 2016), which compelled an additional challenge at the Greek state. According to the Amnesty International Annual Report Greece of 2016-2017, the camps, most of the official ones providing tented shelter, or established in abandoned warehouses, poor building facilities, non-operating summer-camp facilities, far from hospitals and other services hosted around 20000.
Therefore, from the research conducted it appears the documentation has been more comprehensive and systematic by mid 2016 till present, that the informal sites (evacuated in May 2016) and poor condition temporary facilities (such as Elliniko I, II, III camps evacuated in June 2017) have closed and the situation can be considered more stable. As a result, documenting operational centers for the year of 2015 was considered inappropriate for the Greek case and the decision was made to map centers at the beginning of 2017, that public data were available in a further extend, and the situation presented.
All the data gathered by this project are available to download. Please select a dataset from the dropdown below to see its description.