Migration Policies and Technology: How governments are addressing threats linked with migration

The 2015 “Migration Crisis” has brought forward the role of social media and technology in informing migrants’ decisions to migrate, the routes to use, and the networks they can rely on. It has also created new challenges for policymakers and the need to further harness technology as an essential tool to better govern migration and counter potential threats, as well as provide new ways to support and better inform migrants.

The migration-security nexus and the increasing relevance of new technologies and social media are enabling governments to better assess, respond and counter security threats. EU governments have increasingly relied on social media and new technologies to ensure the security of the EU, inform prospective migrants about the dangers associated with journeys, and support the integration process before their arrival to countries of destination.

Below are some examples of measures implemented in select countries, highlighting the role of new technologies and social media in countering threats and challenges linked with perceptions. 

Increased Data Exchanges between Institutions

The creation of joint databases between different institutions and ministries has been a key measure utilising technology to counter threats stemming from lack of information, particularly in relation to migrants’ criminal background and whether individuals represent a threat to public security. Measures involving a unified database were implemented, for instance, in Germany and Belgium, and have had a significantly positive impact in bridging the information gap and identifying potentially dangerous individuals. 

In Germany, the Act to Improve the Exchange of Data was introduced in February 2016 to improve the existing data in the Central Register of Foreign Nationals (AZR). The new database includes, in addition to information on foreigners’ visas residing in Germany, the data of asylum and protection seekers. The information contains basic personal and identification information. The Act also provides for mandatory security checks on asylum seekers and obliges all authorities to transmit data to the Central Register of Foreign Nationals, conditional on the fact that they are authorised to do so. 

Similarly, in Belgium, an agreement between the Federal Police and the Office for Foreigners was elaborated, followed by the technical development of a National General Database (BNG). The Federal Police has access to and is able to consult the Database. As a result, the Office for Foreigners is able to verify if a foreigner committed actions affecting the public order and taking that into consideration when making an administrative decision. 

Increasing Reach of Information Campaigns 

Information campaigns have been used to raise awareness among migrants and asylum seekers about the dangers associated with journeys to specific countries, through social media platforms and in different languages. In Belgium, the Office of Foreigners initiated Facebook ads to dissuade migrants from undertaking the journey to Belgium. This allowed the targeting features of Facebook to reach specific audiences through these ads. Some advertisements have been communicated in 6 different languages (Arabic, Urdu, Kurdish, English, Hindi, and Pashto) in different locations in Belgium and Europe (including “hotspots” in Greece and Italy, Northern France, Spanish “enclaves”, and asylum centres in Germany). It is reported that these ads were consulted 776,538 times.

In Germany, several initiatives on providing alternative views to how life in Europe is portrayed were conducted. The Federal Network African Diaspora of Germany, the Federal Foreign Service, as well as six of the top 10 African countries of origin for migrants in Germany launched “Lost Dreams”, a film project aimed to raise awareness and prevent loss of migrants’ lives and their exposure to dangers encountered on the way to Europe. The film project highlights the types of dangers migrants might encounter along the different smuggling routes across the Mediterranean, as well as corrects inaccurate information about Europe and Germany spread by smugglers to lure and convince migrants to undertake dangerous journeys. The film project tries to correct the utopian image spread about Germany as the land in which “milk and honey flow and money grows on trees” and is translated into German, French, English, Somali, and Hausa.  

Social Media Supporting Early Integration 

The use of technology and social media also has the potential to improve integration. Technologies, social media and the internet are useful tools to fulfil migrants’ needs in terms of integration at different stages of the process, including prior to their departure. Some EU Member States have already developed online tools, such as phone applications, to inform newly-arrived asylum seekers about their rights, provide online basic language courses and share practical information to facilitate access to different institutions and cater to different life needs.


Note: This article is based on preliminary desk research conducted in the context of Workpackage2 in the PERCEPTIONS project looking at policies from 2015 onwards, in selected countries.

Author: Madalina Rogoz, Nesrine Ben Brahim


social media, migrant integration, big data, information campaigns

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