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.).
The isotropic distribution of the centres across urban and rural areas shows a clear trend towards the diffusion and dispersion of refuge – which is both policy-driven, geographically-induced (the Italian urban system is a system of small and medium cities where the distinction between urban and rural is never clear-cut), and, as some scholars would argue, bio-politically driven (Manara and Piazza, 2018). Hotspots, detention and expulsion centres are located close to (land or sea) borders. With the exception of Rome and Milan, the reception system is a ‘diffused’ one with a high number of facilities located outside large urban zones.
The 'model' of diffused hospitality is neither new nor novel, as it stems from the bottom-up initiative of Italian families hosting Bosnian refugees fleeing war in the 1990s. Based on the assumption that small groups of refugees could have a better chance of integrating in the local community and life, compared to larger groups in segregated and overcrowded centres, in the early 2000s, such a practice was ‘institutionalised’ and incorporated into the SPRAR programme which is currently present in 95 cities and towns, hosting 25-30,000 people (potentially marking a shift from containment to urban dispersal reception). It is still based on the spontaneous initiative of local municipalities, which retain considerable control over asylum housing, and are tasked to generate political and civic consensus around the implementation of the programme. However, the temporariness of the programme largely compromises the effort in establishing relations with the local community; while the very idea of employing a redistributive system – relocating refugees in small towns – bears issues, including the perpetuation of forms of control and policing that ultimately fails to achieve the integration of individuals in a given community, as well preventing them from political action atomising their presence in the urban space.
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.
Italy has long been one of Europe’s thresholds for people from Sub-Saharan Africa, although compared to other countries it receives a small number of asylum requests and has low immigration rates (EUROSTAT, 2016; UNCHR, 2017). This is due to a number of disparate factors, including the current politics of austerity and cuts to welfare and social services, increasing unemployment and homelessness, and a proportional surge of nationalism and xenophobic sentiments.
The Italian system of asylum is split into first and second reception line. First line reception consists of around 3000 Emergency centres (Centro Accoglienza Straordinaria - CAS) distributed across the national territory. The lack of adequate structures and services, coupled by the protraction of the refugees’ stay, as well as mismanagement, corruption and a violation of human rights characterise these centres. Furthermore, there is little clarity on the exact location, governance and management system, as there exist no obligation by law to disclose information around the CAS. Second line reception consists of a number of shared housing accommodations within the programme for the Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees (Sistema Protezione Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati - SPRAR) and it is based on the ‘diffused hospitality’ model. Individuals who have been rejected their asylum request, or have the papers but cannot afford a decent accommodation, or are not intended to remain but have not yet found resources to leave, end up living in squatted buildings and makeshifts camps which are around 18 in an equivalent number of cities and town, according to the survey conducted by MSF in 2016.
Following the European Agenda on Migration in 2015, hotspots facilities have been created close to the arrival routes with the initial purpose of identification and fingerprinting procedures, before transferring refugees and asylum seekers to first-line or second-line reception centres. They have now partly changed their function, having become “places for migrants’ redistribution on land” (Tazzioli, 2018) and oftentime protracted (illegal) detention where human rights abuse and poor living conditions are well documented (Amnesty International, 2016). Similarly, due to the extremely precarious and inhumane conditions, detention centres (Centres for Identification and expulsion – CIE, or Centres for deportation - CPR) have been slowly reduced over time (13 in the past, then 7, now 4). The actual number of deportations operated by the Italian government is rather small.
If possible, would like to add here a diagram similar to the above (but better in terms of aesthetics!), showing the asylum system in a nutshell, and the text below (it can either be inside or outside the diagram - TBC)
The map shows reception/detention centres mapped and their typology in English and Italian, for year 2017. The location is approximate, showing the town where the centre is located.
The financial crisis and politics of austerity in Italy are affecting local communities, economic migrants and refugees alike. As homelessness is on the rise, houses and benefits offered to refugees within protection programmes such as SPRAR are deeply debated. The presence of a parallel system that targets refugees and not, for instance, low income groups, creates a double standard that triggers xenophobia particularly in a time of austerity. Humanitarian organizations and private sector with budgets to running refugee centres, houses and services provide parallel systems of governance that allow refugee to survive in ways that the poor cannot although for a limited period of time. Such double standards exacerbate already tense situations where host communities are not willing to welcome refugees. What is oftentime overlooked, is the fact that hospitality programmes have a large impact on the local economy, creating employment that sustains the local community. Looking at refugees’ per capita budgets, housing, food and welfare cost around 12,000 euros per refugee per year. The budget spent by each government is somebody else's income (from language schools delivering classes to landlords renting flats) which means there is a return in terms of income. This is calculated on a ratio of 1/14.
One of the inconsistent aspects of migration which affect the cost and economy around migration and seems to differ in quantity from one European space to the other, is the privatisation of refugee related services. The profitability of the refugee business has increased competition among private sector lowering standards of hospitality. The Italian government passed contracts to provide accommodation and reception services for asylum seekers to a series of private providers. This is considered to be one of the ways in which a state can reduce its costs in providing housing, security, detention or legal aid to asylum seekers. Instead, for-profit companies are invited to bid on the jobs, providing lower cost alternatives. As Darling (2016) argues, the result is the production of an asylum market, in which neoliberal norms of market competition, economic efficiency and dispersed responsibility are central. Italy outsources refugee detention to multinational companies as the detention business is far more profitable than the reception one (i.e. Italy between 2005-11 spent 1 billion on detention. Comparing the public funds for reception and social integration with those for securitisation for the same years, the ratio was 1:2 (Lunaria, 2013).
The Italian system of asylum is a complex, multifarious and fragmented apparatus of humanitarianism, control and containment resulted from chronic policy failure. Administrative devices as well as technical and humanitarian measures aimed at accommodating, containing or detaining refugees and asylum seekers, have produced over time a constellation of more or less segregated urban and peri-urban centres, dormitories and shared accommodations, with disparate temporal and legal requirements and governance, where refugees oftentime face precarious living conditions. Set up to respond to short-term emergencies, rather than to address refugee situations that drag on for years and decades, the asylum system fails to respond to real needs. Insularity combined with the temporariness of the system and the high number of asylum rejections, ultimately results in a process of expulsion, illegality and informality. According to Medicins Sans Frontiers (2016, 2018), every 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers who are hosted in government-run structures, there are almost 10,000 who live in informal settlements close to urban areas without any access to water, sanitation and basic health care.
All the data gathered by this project are available to download. Please select a dataset from the dropdown below to see its description.