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Moving people’s mindsets in the matter of migration

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migrants refugees
photo: IOM/Amanda Nero

Data scientists and social scientists are examining the perceptions and expectations of migrants to the EU, as well as the attitudes of Europeans towards them.

In 2015, more than a million people arriving in Europe applied for asylum, the biggest annual total since the Second World War. With the Syrian war forcing many families to seek refuge, this was an exceptional year for people who arrived without documentation. Their harrowing and sometimes tragic journeys attracted widespread media coverage, yet net immigration to the European Union through regular channels in 2020 was also around a million people.

Regular, documented migration is an everyday phenomenon for EU countries and goes largely unremarked upon. Without migrants, the EU population as a whole would have contracted by half a million in 2019.  

Whatever way migration happens, the large numbers in play disguise personal stories. Now, a European research project into the attitudes of migrants to Europe is set to release a feature film based on the undocumented migrant experience. Dystopia will centre on an African migrant woman in Spain and her experience of poverty, homelessness and exploitation. Follow the link to learn more about the Dystopia movie.

We often have little knowledge or understanding about how migrants perceive Europe and how they are viewed by Europeans. This can lead to misunderstandings, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic when some migrants feared going to health authorities for a vaccination. The new film – due to be released in November – will tell the story from the migrant’s point of view.

Perceived behaviour

For all the media attention and heated political debate that migration generates, policymakers often operate without fully comprehending the behaviour of migrants themselves. ‘We wanted to understand the influence that narratives and perceptions of Europe have on migration and why people move and how,’ said Diotima Bertel, social scientist at Vienna, Austria-based research company SYNYO and coordinator of a project called PERCEPTIONS.

PERCEPTIONS conducted more than 100 in-person interviews with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers about the sources of information they used and their views of Europe. It also investigated mass media and social media that migrants relied on.

‘Migrants can have a more positive idea about the situation in Europe than reality and can be disappointed by harsh realities such as not being welcomed by the society or having difficulty finding a job,’ said Bertel. They might also present a rosier picture to those back home so as not to worry relatives, she said.

Nonetheless, migrants have ‘a fairly realistic understanding of the journey to Europe, in particular the dangers that await them,’ said Bertel. ‘There is a misperception from the European side about this, though not the organisations that work directly with migrants.’ 

The project found that when there are no family connections or diaspora, most migrants make little distinction between possible destinations in Europe. To the extent that there is a general tendency, it leans towards larger, better-known countries such as the UK and Germany.

Possible destinations

A twin project of PERCEPTION, called MIRROR, also looked at migrants’ perceptions to get a better understanding of how migrants perceive Europe as a destination.

Using freely available information, while paying particular attention to influential social and mass media, the project developed a set of tools to inform policymakers, border-control agencies and others to help improve their policies.

The database that the project built can be used by humanitarian organisations or governmental agencies to draw links between beliefs and types of behaviour. For example, MIRROR found that sometimes migrants have a tendency to be wary of European countries’ pandemic-related health measures, including quarantines.  

This sort of information would complement existing border-control practices, according to Dr Aitana Radu, project researcher and expert in information policy and governance at the University of Malta.

The project has provided recommendations on, for example, how to improve communication with migrants.

Migration predictions

A third project – ITFLOWS – focuses on producing accurate predictions and forecasts of migration and asylum flows, and developing workable approaches to the phenomenon by creating a deeper understanding of it.

‘There is a need to improve the management of arrivals to the European Union and, once they arrive, improve their integration into different Member States,’ said Professor Cristina Basi Casagran at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain, ITFLOWS coordinator. 

The project is developing the EUMigraTool (EMT) to predict or forecast migration and asylum flows and spotlight any possible migration-related tensions. This includes analysis of content from TV, web news and social media. 

While all the data it uses draws from publicly available sources, the EMT collects them for the first time in a single resource for those who work with migrants, and for policymakers.

‘We also conducted interviews with over 90 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Greece, Italy and Spain,’ said Dr Colleen Boland at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In addition, the project is tapping into data from Google Trends to better understand the intentions and views of migrants, and Twitter to learn about sentiment and attitudes towards migrants.

The EMT website ‘will contain various dashboards and interfaces to look at different sections. You could see, for example, displacement caused by conflict at the countries of origin, like Nigeria, Mali or Venezuela,’ said Dr Boland. 

‘You can also see historical data on movement, as well as our predictions on asylum-seeker arrivals based on applications in different Member States.’

In addition to assessing the movement of people, the website will highlight the perspectives of European citizens. ‘We will have a section looking at attitudes towards immigration in different Member States, to see attitudes based on different variables such as age, unemployment and education,’ said Dr Boland. This, she said, may flag issues such as barriers to integration.  

Changing migration patterns

Dr Boland said the interviews with migrants helped tell the story of why and how they travelled to Europe, be it along Mediterranean land and sea routes, via the Canary Islands from West Africa or across the Atlantic from Latin America.

Project officials stress that there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for migration to Europe. ‘People are highly individual at the end of the day,’ said Dr Katja Prinz, EU research manager at HENSOLDT Analytics, responsible for communications with MIRROR.  

One thing is certain: migration drivers and patterns will keep changing, as evidenced by the movement of Ukrainians to EU countries following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, largely to Poland but also other territories.

‘This is not a fixed situation, but instead is something that continually evolves,’ said Bertel.

Follow the links below to learn more about

the PERCEPTIONS project

the MIRROR project

the ITFLOWS project

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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European ministers adopt “Dublin Declaration” on preventing violence through equality

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Thirty-eight Council of Europe member states have committed to a “Dublin Declaration” outlining a series of steps to promote gender equality in order to help prevent domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The declaration was adopted by Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom following a two-day conference of justice ministers organised by Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of Europe.

Inspired by the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women, and expert findings on the implementation of the convention so far, states backing the declaration committed to:

  1. actively promoting, at the highest level, an institutional and political culture which rejects gender-based discrimination and violence, sexism, gender stereotypes and gendered power dynamics in the public and private sector
  2. ensuring that strategies aimed at preventing and combating violence against women also address the specific role of men and boys in preventing violence against women
  3. systematically including awareness-raising campaigns as an integral and fully funded part of long-term action plans on violence against women
  4. taking measures to include in the official curriculum, of all levels of education, teaching material on issues such as the principle of equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence against women and the right to personal integrity
  5. providing guidelines for educational material in this area and the training of educational professionals, as well as the creation of knowledge platforms to share best practices
  6. encouraging initial and in-service training of all relevant professionals, including within the criminal justice system
  7. taking all possible measures to ensure that episodes of violence are taken into consideration by courts when deciding upon custody and visitation rights
  8. increasing the provision of perpetrator programmes for domestic violence and for sexual violence operating on the standards and principles set out in the Istanbul Convention
  9. asking the Council of Europe to carry out a comparative study in member states on the existing models and approaches taken to perpetrator programmes and their results
  10. inviting states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention and reinforce efforts to implement existing international legal standards in the area of gender equality and violence against women

To date, 37 Council of Europe member states have ratified the Istanbul Convention, enabling its entry into force in those countries. Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania the Slovak Republic – and the European Union as a whole – have signed, but not yet ratified, the convention. Azerbaijan has not yet signed the convention and Türkiye denounced it in March 2021.

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FAO: Join forces to prevent ‘food availability crisis’

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As the war in Ukraine stokes a crisis for countries who are struggling just to access the food their populations want and need, the international community needs to ensure that doesn’t spill over into a “food availability crisis”, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Wednesday.

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu told a meeting of agriculture ministers from the G20 industrialized nations in Bali, that with access to Ukrainian grain, cooking oils and other vital foodstuffs for the most vulnerable countries restricted by seven months of conflict, “we must must increase the resilience of global agrifood systems.”

Grain Initiative, ‘an important step’

He lauded the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative as “an important step forward”, and it has now freed-up more than five million metric tonnes of food, with well over a quarter of shipments going directly to lower income countries.

“But still it needs to be complemented to improve the food access of most vulnerable countries”, he said.

Overall, wholesale food prices have been heading down for five months now, but consumer food prices and inflation are soaring, “with devastating implications for global food security and nutrition.”

And beyond the crisis sparked by conflict, an increase in extreme weather is also fuelling to crop destruction and failure worldwide.

“While we witnessed improvements in the forecasts for wheat and soybean markets, the outlook is less positive for maize and rice, and fertilizer markets remain supply-constrained and volatile…Much needs to be done to ensure that all people can afford safe and nutritious food in sufficient quantities to meet their dietary needs and preferences and have a healthy life.”

Recipe for resilience

Mr QU said key steps must be taken, to boost resilience for now, and in the future:
• Improve early warning and early action systems.
• Increase productivity sustainably.
• Accelerate trade; and find innovative solutions to tackle inorganic fertilizer supply constraints.

In the medium-term, he told ministers it was crucial to boost innovation, invest in infrastructure to reduce inequality, reduce food loss and waste, and in the short-term, improve food access.

“For that FAO proposed the Food Import Financing Facility – which I am happy the IMF has now taken over and it is calling it the ‘food shock window’ within the IMF emergency lending instruments”.

Support for low-income nations

The idea of the financing facility is to provide funds for 62 lower-income food importing nations that are home to around 1.8 billion people, in order to meet their most urgent needs.

He said it was important to accelerate exports from Ukraine and Russia via the Black Sea Grain Initiative; and “increase fertilizer availability through the comfort letters issues by United States and the new guidelines issued by the European Commission”.

Conflicts, slowdowns and downturns, because of COVID-19, and the climate crisis, he told ministers, “are the major drivers of our crises today and tomorrow.”

“It is important that all nations join in the dividends of peace and stability, so that we all commit to peace. Without peace we will not achieve Zero Hunger and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

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Hurricanes and cyclones bring misery to millions, as Ian makes landfall in the U.S.

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Hurricane Ian is tracked south of Florida on Sept. 26, 2022, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA). © NOAA

Hurricane Ian caused devastation across western Cuba and increased its strength and size as it made landfall mid-afternoon local time on Wednesday, in the United States; meanwhile Typhoon Noru underwent an “explosive” intensification before it hit the Philippines, the UN Meteorological agency, WMO, has said.The two tropical cyclones came quick on the heels of Hurricane Fiona, which caused deadly flooding in the Caribbean and was the strongest storm on record to hit Canada. Typhoon Nanmadol, prompted the evacuation of nine million people in Japan.

Fingerprints of climate change

The World Meteorological Organization has reminded that climate change is expected to increase the proportion of major tropical cyclones worldwide, and to increase the heavy rainfall associated with these events.

Meanwhile, sea level rise and coastal development are also worsening the impact of coastal flooding.

“The human and socio-economic impacts of these cyclones will be felt for years,” warned Cyrille Honoré, WMO Director of Disaster Risk Reduction and Public Services branch.

Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian slammed into Cuba on 27 September as a Category 3 storm, with sustained winds of 205km/h and even stronger gusts leading to flash flooding and mudslides.

It is estimated that more than three million people have been affected, the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office informed.

According to WMO, Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel said that the damage caused by Ian will likely be significant, though only preliminary assessments have been carried out.

There were no immediate reports of casualties. But there was severe damage to infrastructure, housing, agriculture, and telecommunications, with power reportedly lost to the entire country. Pinar del Río, the hardest hit province, is home to 75 per cent of the country’s tobacco production – a key export for Cuba – and about 40 per cent of the nation’s bean production.

Florida on high alert

Ian is intensifying rapidly and is now a very strong category 4 hurricane (maximum sustained winds near 155 mph (250 km/h) with higher gusts). It is expected to maintain this intensity.

Ian is the first hurricane to make landfall in mainland United States this season.

The US national weather service warned of catastrophic wind damage near the core of Ian when it moves onshore and of life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic flooding.

The combination of storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline, according to expert forecasts. The water could reach up to 12 to 16 feet (3.5 to 4.8 meters) in the worst affected areas.

Heavy rainfall will spread across central and northern Florida through Thursday as it is forecasted to slow its forward motion. Ian is forecast to reach portions of the US Southeast later this week and this weekend (1-2 October).

Catastrophic flooding is expected across portions of central Florida with considerable flooding in, northern Florida, south-eastern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.

Ian poses an exceptional threat because of its size, its strength and its landfall in a heavily populated, low-lying area”, WMO has warned.

Typhoon Noru

Meanwhile, in the eastern hemisphere, Typhoon Noru, known in the Philippines as Karding, hit the northeastern part of the Philippines on 25 September as a “super typhoon” with sustained winds of 195 km/h (121 mph) before tracking across the main island of Luzon on 25 September.

More than two million people live in the worst affected areas, according to a disaster analysis, and nearly 430,000 people were directly impacted. Despite the relatively short space of time for mobilization, thousands of people were successfully evacuated, limiting loss of life.

From 26-27 September, typhoon Noru made its way towards Viet Nam, and intensified once again.

The importance of early warnings

WMO underscored that accurate early warnings and coordinated early action are proving key to limiting casualties during extreme weather events such as Hurricane Ian, Fiona and Thyphoon Noru.

“It is more important than ever that we scale up action on early warning systems to build resilience to current and future climate risks in vulnerable communities,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

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