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Data Protection and Digital Agency for Refugees

– World Refugee Council

An ethnographic study from the World Refugee Council looks at the balance of power between refugees and host countries

It is a well-worn scene. At a border between countries, the official questions the traveller and demands to see identification. Yet what questions actually get asked? What happens when the traveller is already inside the country? What happens when travellers are fleeing war and persecution, sometimes in their millions?

As Dragana Kaurin, author of this paper, explains in her introduction:

“The term ‘refugee crisis,’ as it was mediatized in 2015, when a record 1.3 million asylum applications were submitted in the European Union… , is one that is puzzling to refugees and asylum seekers alike. This crisis is framed in terms of the European Union’s inability to control its borders and of the socioeconomic impacts on host countries — instead of in terms of the crisis and trauma experienced by refugees fleeing the violence in Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan. For them, the crisis started long before they reached the EU border.” 

She continues:

“Refugees are expected to give vast amounts of personal information and biometric data while going through the asylum process in the European Union, to authorities, UN agencies and their implementing partners. They must provide personally identifying data, including sensitive information about surviving sexual violence, torture, war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

In this ethnographic study which encompasses experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, Spain, Germany, and Italy, Kaurin explores and establishes the many ways in which refugees are identified through their journeys, how the data is collected and stored, who has control over this data, and where the balance of power lies.

Kaurin offers seven clear and helpful recommendations to anyone engaged in identity work in humanitarian settings with an emphasis on transparency, human-centered design, legal frameworks, and reciprocity.

Complex humanitarian problems merit careful analysis and multi-stakeholder engagement; they cannot be resolved with technical solutions alone. These challenges deserve nuanced, well-thought out responses; careful analysis; community consent; and consideration of intended and unintended consequences

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