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Annual Policy Initiative 2021: Virtual senior expert roundtable on the role of information and ICT in the context of irregular migration

14 July 2021

On 8 July 2021, ICMPD held a virtual senior expert roundtable to discuss how migrants and policymakers can make better use of information in the context of irregular migration. The meeting brought together a diverse range of senior experts from EU and ICMPD Member States, international organisations, research centres and other relevant bodies for a lively conversation on this evolving and increasingly popular topic within migration management. Participants discussed the role of ICT and social media in particular for migrants’ decision-making as well as for governments’ monitoring and forecasting.

The conclusion of the discussion was that social media and other ICTs do not play as critical a role in influencing people’s decision to migrate as might be anticipated, but rather serve as tools to more easily access information for those who have already decided to migrate and those already on their journey. For potential migrants, personal connections (friends, family and often returnees) are much more important sources of information. Social media is also used as a tool to convey the offer and demand on the smuggling market. Notably, technology has changed the ways in which smugglers operate: With mobile navigation technologies, migrants are no longer joined by smugglers on their journey, which has made the detection of facilitators at borders more difficult.

With EU governments increasingly utilising information campaigns as a migration management tool, experts also reflected on the effectiveness of these activities for informing migrants and influencing their decision-making. Discussants agreed that it is very difficult to assess the impact of campaigns for several reasons, including unclear or conflicting goals of campaigns or flawed assumptions regarding the target group. However, if information is shared by communicators who are perceived by migrants as trustworthy, they could influence perceptions of risk and intentions to migrate irregularly. Whether a change in intentions leads to a change in actual plans – and whether behaviour changes persist overtime – are important policy questions that remain unanswered. Another key challenge identified is how to address the tensions between information campaigns aiming for humanitarian protection and those aiming for the decrease of irregular migration flows. Indeed, these two goals often co-exist in the same information campaign.

This meeting was organised within the framework of ICMPD’s Annual Policy Initiative (API), which addresses a different key issue in the current migration debate each year in order to identify pragmatic ways forward at both the policy and operational levels. Now in its third year, the API 2021 focuses on whole-of-route approaches to addressing irregular migration. To this end, the API is holding a series of discussions and consultations throughout the year to develop policy options to address irregular arrivals via the most frequented migration routes. These recommendations will draw on analysis, consultations and meetings with key actors both within and outside of the organisation, as well as discussions at the annual Vienna Migration Conference on 19-20 October 2021.