#escapes2021 – panel 5

#escapes2021 International Online Conference

Mediterranean Crossings:
Refusal and Resistance in Uncertain Times

University of Milan, 24 – 26 June 2021

Follow the money: migration industry, refugees’ unpaid labour and value extraction

Convenors: Martina Tazzioli (Goldsmiths, University of London),  Ana Valdivia (King’s College)

Call for Papers

Big data revolution in migration management: beyond ethics

Foteini Kalantzi (A.G. Leventis Research Officer, South East European Studies, University of Oxford) , Myriam Fotou (Lecturer in International Relations, University of Leicester)

The heightened securitisation of migration coupled and partly executed by a biometricised governance regime constitute some of the fundamental characteristics of EU border policies. Relevant literature has repeatedly engaged with the biometricisation and its use within the Eurodac system, biometric passports, Schengen Information Systems (SIS), Entry/Exist System (EES), etc. and with how biometric technology redefines and decisively influences the nature of migration controls. It is clear that these highly technologised hegemonic routinised practices, where the bodily and other human characteristics are in the disposal of police and border authorities, without the existence of criminal offense, are not only normalized but presented as indispensable part and parcel of the “big data revolution”.

Such “revolution” is presented in a positive light and as progress by mainstream research: a safe and effective medium for ensuring security; an overview of the various “phases” of migration such as “the journey”, “the stay” and “the return” (Sirbu et al, 2020); filling “current data gaps and the need to monitor progress towards the migration-related targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” (Migration Data Portal, 2021), “fully integrat[ing] statistics into decision-making, promote open access to, and use of, data and ensure increased support for statistical systems.” (HLP, 2013), among other reasons. In short, such data are cheap, useful and quick to come by. Despite the willing acknowledgement of resulting ethical and privacy issues by mainstream research, a deeper engagement with the extraction value of refugee and migrant data, issues of hidden migrant labour and the actual threat they present for migrant lives due to their enabling of further securitisation of mobility is lacking.

This paper addresses this lack by exploring the Big Data for Migration Alliance (BD4M) – a joint initiative of IOM’s GMDAC with the EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) along with the interoperability initiative passed in May 2019 as Regulations (EU) 2019/817 and 818, which “seeks new strategies for identifying dangerous individuals who use false or multiple identities”. How market forces benefit from proposals such as the shared Biometric Matching Service (BMS) and the Common Identity Repository (CIR)? What do these proposals mean for securitisation of migration? And how can we, as researchers, challenge such developments?


Collecting, assembling, ordering: borders, asylum, and the invisible labour of data

Lucrezia Canzutti (King’s College London), Claudia Aradau (King’s College London)

This paper proposes to use the concept of ‘invisible labour’ to examine the work that asylum seekers perform in order to provide evidence that substantiates their asylum claims. The intersection between asylum and labour has typically been analysed in relation to unfree labour, exploitation, destitution and precarity, on the one hand – and the varying restrictions on asylum seekers’ access to the labour market on the other. However, less attention has been paid to the injunctions to work that are inherent within the process of seeking asylum. In addition to this, while paperwork has long been a characteristic of the modern state, it has not been at the centre of debates concerning asylum seeking and the difficulties that it entails. To address these limitations, we propose to extend the existing literature on asylum and labour by drawing attention to the work that asylum seekers perform in collecting, assembling, and ordering different forms of analogue and digital data to put together a ‘credible’ asylum application. In adopting a feminist, ‘more generous notion of work’ (Smith, 1993: 62), we argue that the very condition of seeking asylum entails extensive and continual invisible work that requires significant resources – including money, effort, and time. Attending to these forms of invisible work is crucial to understanding the lived experiences of asylum seekers and the challenges associated with asylum seeking beyond the migratory journey. It also counters problematic depictions of asylum seekers as passive subjects who are ‘just waiting’ for a decision to be made (Rotter, 2015: 85). Finally, we believe that rendering the collection and assemblage of data as ‘invisible work’ rather than just ‘doings’ has political implications for how we understand the resources, responsibilities and resistance to the making of precarious subjects.


Following the money at the EU datafied border: A digital methodology to shed light on EU-LISA and Frontex contracts

Ana Valdivia (King’s College, London)

In 2020, the European Union Agency for Large-Scale Information Systems (EU-Lisa) announced the award of their most valuable the contract for the new Entry Exit System (EES) and the shared Biometric Matching System (sBMS) to two companies: IDEMIA and Sopra Steria. Little is publicly known about the companies and the AI-based technologies that they develop and implement at European borders.

In this paper, we propose an interdisciplinary methodology to analyse the companies that have been awarded contracts to implement data interoperability and AI at EU’s borders. Rather than opacity or transparency, we work with disperse forms of visibility and invisibility to trace the contours of datafied borders. We start from EU-Lisa procurement to map the companies that have been awarded contracts. After a systematic analysis of all the contracts awarded by EU-Lisa AND Frontex since 2014, we retrieve and investigate the patents of the companies awarded contracts to develop and maintain the three main border and migration databases – VIS, SIS and EURODAC – as well as recent contracts for interoperability projects and the new databases such as EES. Our methodology combines computational methods (information retrieval, text mining, data analysis and graph theory) with qualitative methods of ‘thick analysis’. This interdisciplinary methodology helps shed light on the epistemic and political assumptions of datafication power, thus raising new questions of accountability at EU’s datafied borders.


Giacomo Zandonini (journalist)

Licenza Creative CommonsQuesto testo è distribuito con licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione – Non commerciale – Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia

Call for Papers