All 4 entries tagged Migration

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December 15, 2022

Data–based humanitarianism in Nigeria and South Sudan

D and D camp

Source: Data and Displacement Project Fieldwork

Written by: Funke Fayehun, Briony Jones, Leben Moro and Vicki Squire

This blog from members of the Data and Displacement team explores barriers that emerge in the context of data-driven approaches to humanitarian protection.i

How far can a data-driven approach to humanitarian protection foster increased participation and improved outcomes for IDPs? We address this question based on an analysis of interviews with displaced persons (IDPs) and stakeholders in Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan. Our findings highlight the ways that the production and use of data in itself generates challenges for the participation of affected communities, with protection outcomes compromised by a range of contextual, specific and systemic barriers.

Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan

Northeastern Nigeria has seen terrorism and armed conflict over a number of years, including insurgencies by the Boko Haram sect in the 1990s, later allied with the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). This has led to deaths, the loss of livelihood and key support systems, and multiple displacements. Findings from our research suggest that there are lapses in the data ecosystems in Nigeria, with likely consequences of imprecise and inaccurate data on humanitarian assistance and planning.

South Sudan gained independence on 9 July 2011, enabling the return of millions of displaced persons. However, due to the outbreak of civil war in 2013, ongoing political battles and intense violence, largely along ethnic lines, has caused catastrophic repercussions for civilians. As of 2021, 2.34 million South Sudanese were refugees in neighboring countries while another 1.615 million were IDPs. Despite resolution in 2018, our research indicates that the generation and management of data on IDPs in the country have significant shortcomings.

Exploring the Challenges:

1. Technological and infrastructural barriers

In Northeastern Nigeria, there are both personnel and equipment gaps, which limit capacities for data collection and storage. The lack of equipment and well-trained personnel limits the coherence of data storage and handling processes, which differ across organizations. Divergent data banks across institutions and actors, along with reliability and systematisation issues in some cases, mean that there is a multiplicity of data.

Most South Sudanese NGOs do not generate sufficient and reliable financial resources by which to acquire the necessary expertise and material resources. UN agencies and international organisations are better positioned to acquire and deploy the required capacity to generate and manage data. Representatives of international organisations that we interviewed confirmed use of tablets to undertake headcounts and profiling for returns.

2. Procedural and Administrative barriers in defining vulnerability

Both stakeholders and IDPs highlight irregularities in the classification and identification of the most vulnerable IDPs in camps in Northeastern Nigeria. Many ‘fall through the cracks’ of protection because classification issues both at the point of registration and within the data subsequently collected for planning purposes lead to many needing help being overlooked.

While some stakeholders in South Sudan are involved in projects targeting vulnerable groups as well as general protection needs, many IDPs who we interviewed in camps suggest that the needs of some vulnerable people are not addressed. Those likely to ‘fall through the cracks’ of protection are victims of sexual violence, which is a significant but culturally sensitive issue in South Sudan.

3. Ethical barriers

There is an inconsistent and inappropriate ethical system for data collection from IDPs in Northeastern Nigeria. Many IDPs describe consent as verbal, without proper recording or written documentation and with limited information. In some instances, data collectors do not directly obtain consent from IDPs, but instead, go ahead with data collection after stating the purpose and approval from higher authorities.

In South Sudan some IDPs interviewed for this study expressed distrust or fear about people coming to collect data from them. Some IDPs agreed to give consent because their community leaders agreed to the data collection, and some complain that those who collect data from them do not return and fail to provide feedback.

4. Systemic barriers

Technological innovations intersect with donor pressure, donor agendas, and our research highlights the role of inter-agency competition over finite resources and funding. Data-driven humanitarian assistance is clearly a contested terrain with implications for IDP participation and humanitarian outcomes. Our research indicates that IDPs often have different understandings to humanitarian practitioners of the value of sharing data and expectations of what it should be used for. One told us:

‘I did not ask them. I would want to ask them, but I did not, they came to collect data like you are doing now, but they disappeared’


In reviewing data-driven humanitarian assistance in IDP camps in Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan, our research points to a range of barriers to improving protection outcomes: technological and infrastructural, procedural and administrative, as well as ethical. Our findings suggest that this requires further investment in personnel and technological infrastructure, more careful attention to classification processes in the identification of vulnerability and need, plus improved ethical practices that take informed consent seriously.

Profile of Authors:

Funke Fayehun, Associate Professor and Head of Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan

Briony Jones, Reader of International Development, Politics and International Studies Department, University of Warwick.

Leben Moro, Director of the Directorate of Scientific and Cultural External Relations, University of Juba.

Vicki Squire, Professor of International Studies, Politics and International Studies Department, University of Warwick.


[i] Data and Displacement: Assessing the Practical and Ethical Implications of Targetting Humanitarian Protection is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (AHRC-FCDO) Collaborative Humanitarian Protection Programme (grant AH/T007516/1). We would like to thank the wider research team for their work on this project, including João Porto de Albuquerque, Dallal Stevens, Rob Trigwell, Ọláyínká Àkànle, Modesta Alozie, Kuyang Harriet Logo, Prithvi Hirani, Grant Tregonning, Stephanie Whitehead, HajjaKaka Alhaji Mai, Abubakar Adam, Omolara Popoola, Silvia De Michelis, Ewajesu Opeyemi Okewumi, Mauricio Palma-Gutiérrez, Funke Caroline Williams and Oluwafunto Abimbola. The project team undertook a total of 140 semi-structured qualitative interviews in Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan, 100 with IDPs and 40 with practitioners, split equally across the two locations. The team has also conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with a total of 42 humanitarians who have expertise in data and information management, from across a range of international organisations and NGOs. We would also like to extend our thanks to Annika Sirikulthada, a University of Warwick Research Assistant who suported preparation of the blog.

January 04, 2022

Return migration: The making of ‘brain circulation’

return migration blog

Source: IOM, July 2021

Written by: Toli J. Amare (Blog Competition shortlist entry)

Migration has been one of the key dimensions of globalisation with ‘brain drain’ increasingly becoming a key feature, and one of the main benefits to the home country in the form of remittances and foreign currency. However, recently, owing to factors like local changes in the emerging nations, the flow of migrants has started to change from the developed world to the developing nations in different regions of the world including Eastern Europe, East Asian countries, and some African countries. For example, Ethiopia until recently has been the linchpin for its economic development and was able to attract a large number of returnees. Ethiopian returnees are playing a vital role in facilitating economic growth and technology transfer. According to a report by the United Nations Agency for International Migration, (2019) the last decade has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of return migrants across the globe. Following this, a long tradition of war for talent which most of the emerging nations are assumed to have lost is shifting because of the change in the dynamics of migration.

Two things might have contributed to the change in the wave of migration. Firstly, the immigration policies, regimes, and xenophobia in the host countries might have facilitated the relevance of returning home. For instance, the rise of Donald Trump had initiated a zero-tolerance immigration policy in the United States with lasting impacts. Second, local transformations in the home countries might have aroused migrants’ interests to contribute to their homeland. Emerging nations have an unexploited market, they hold huge business potential for returnee ventures. Returnees hold abundant skills, experiences, and networks that could be used in facilitating the home country’s economy (Saxenian, 2005). Recently, I interviewed around 30 Ethiopian returnees who are engaged in business for my PhD research project. A returnee from the US explained:

“Migration gives you a chance to see things you have never been aware of, and value what you tend to take for granted. It helps you develop a unique personality and identity. It teaches you respect for work, rules, time, and many skills useable after the return”.

Return migration has resulted in two major outcomes. First, it made it possible for talents to be shared and circulated. It has reoriented the labeling of migration from ‘brain drain’ to ‘brain circulation’ and ‘brain gain’ by signifying migration as an opportunity and a beacon of hope in driving local economic development (Saxenian, 2005). Evidence from Asian countries shows that return migrants are transforming the socio-economic and political environment of their home countries (Gruenhagen, 2019; Gruenhagen and Davidsson 2018). Second, emerging nations who had been assumed losers in the global war for talent have started to fetch their fair share from migration, turning the lose-win tradition to triple wins i.e., the migrants, the host countries, and home countries. This assures a reconsideration of migration from a liability to an opportunity for emerging nations. In line with this, migration is now considered to be one of the pillar elements necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. However, it does not seem to be easy to maximise the benefits of migration in emerging economies.

The paradox of keeping the brain circulating

Despite varied accrued benefits from migrants living abroad, in some cases, policymakers in emerging economies seem to fix their focus mainly on remittances, and yet to recognise their post-return role. Particularly, African nations seem not to prepare well to take advantage of this phenomenon. For this reason, returnee migrants face two main challenges. The first one is the institutional gap (Gruenhagen, 2019). Often bureaucracy is a primal bottleneck in the emerging nations. Returnees who worked and/or studied in developed nations often expect a different institutional setup that can accommodate their needs. However, corruption and lengthy bureaucracy tend to hold returnees back. There are misconceptions about returning among the policymakers. For example, returnees are assumed to be people who seek to maximise their sole benefits without any regard to the homeland, an idea that drives returnees to frustrations. An excerpt from an interview with another Ethiopian returnee reinforces this:

“Despite the good system and lovely social life, the system in this country needs a huge work. People are assigned to positions based on blood relations, nothing about knowledge and capacity. They do not have respect for a person, they do not talk to you well, imagine how bad it is for the country. I hope it will be taking shape soon. Additionally, most of the officials are corrupt, they ask you [for] cash straight”.

The second is an interpersonal challenge (Mreji and Barnard, 2021). After working in the advanced liberal nations for years, returnees often find it difficult to reintegrate into the society they once left, making them feel alienated due to their absence. Returnees are often assumed to be people with enough cash to spend and support. Due to their better economic position, they are often considered to be responsible for their close ties. This adds to the grand challenge, finally hindering their contribution potential.

Therefore, given the potential of migrants in propelling the economy, and in light of the above challenges, regimes have to improve to take advantage of returnee migrants. Emerging nations need to revisit their policymaking to accommodate the growing interest of returnees. Apart from the remittances, migrants are potential entrepreneurs, carriers of foreign knowledge, and facilitators of innovation and technology transfer to revitalise and transform the local economy.


Gruenhagen, J. H., & Davidsson, P. (2018). Returnee entrepreneurs: Do they all boost emerging economies?. International Review of Entrepreneurship, 16(4).

Gruenhagen, J. H. (2019). Returnee entrepreneurs and the institutional environment: case study insights from China. International Journal of Emerging Markets.

Mreji, P., & Barnard, H. (2021). The micro-foundations of the returnee liability: The interpersonal challenges of returnee entrepreneurs in Kenya. Journal of International Management, 27(2), 100846.

Saxenian, A. (2021). Brain circulation and capitalist dynamics: Chinese chipmaking and the Silicon Valley-Hsinchu-Shanghai Triangle. In The economic sociology of capitalism(pp. 325-351). Princeton University Press.

Saxenian, A. (2005). From brain drain to brain circulation: Transnational communities and regional upgrading in India and China. Studies in comparative international development, 40(2), 35-61.

Author Bio:

Toli J. Amare is a Doctoral Candidate in Management in the Department of Management, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. Occasionally, he visits Jonkoping International Business School in Sweden as part of a collaborative programme between Addis Ababa University and Jonkoping University in Sweden. His research interests are entrepreneurship and small business, strategy, and management practices. Currently, he is working on his dissertation entitled - Enablers and challenges of returnee Entrepreneurship in Ethiopia.

October 28, 2021

A Tale of Two Mediterraneans

Mediterranean Sea

Photo by Dimitris Panagiotaras on Unsplash

Written by Irene Garcia

This year has seen unprecedented amounts of migrants arriving at the Balearic Islands. So far in 2021, 91 boats with more than 1400 people have arrived on the shores of these islands. This year has also seen unprecedented numbers of Spanish tourists in the Balearics – in some islands it was up to double the numbers of 2019. Over the summer, I took part in the University of Warwick Undergraduate Research Support Scheme (URSS). Focusing specifically on Spain, I investigated the dominant representations of the Mediterranean in Spanish popular culture and how they exclude and dehumanise the experiences of migrants. I did this by looking at popular culture materials which portray images of the ‘hospitable Mediterranean’, as well as existing migrant testimonies describing their experience of arrival in Spain. Through a discourse analysis of these materials, I looked at how migrant testimonies can challenge dominant views of the Mediterranean, and how these struggles can shape the way the Mediterranean is represented.


The mainstream representation of the Mediterranean is evident in the advertising campaign by the beer company, Estrella Damm, which released yearly advertising campaigns in the summer under the slogan “Mediterráneamente”. This translates as “in a Mediterranean way”, submitting so-called Mediterranean values alongside images of a picture-perfect summer and a catchy song. These adverts have become an important part of Spanish television culture – the 2021 advert accumulated 14 million views in the two months after it was released, an incredibly high figure for a television advertisement.

The key theme of the beer advertisement is the ‘Mediterranean way of life’, based on values such as hospitality, respect and altruism. This appears throughout the plot of the video advertisement, which follows a woman at the beach who appears to have fallen for a famous actor standing on the other side of the beach. In the end, the main character does not walk up to the famous actor, and instead approaches a volunteer who is cleaning the ocean just behind him. The volunteer is described as generous, willing to act and change the status quo, and a good person. Arguably, these are the kind of Mediterranean values that the advert is trying to transmit, values which correlate with the findings of the Anna Lindh survey on intercultural trends in the Mediterranean region, in which Spanish respondents answered that hospitality, the ‘Mediterranean way of life and food’, and the ‘common cultural heritage’ best describe the region.

As the beach-goers gossip about the possible relationship between the woman and the famous actor, they remark that she is out of his league. In this context, one of the characters says that “certain borders cannot be crossed”, meaning that they see no future for the pair. However, another character says that he is about to be witness to a “love without barriers”. Using words like “border” is not accidental and has to be considered within a climate in which migration has been highly politicised by certain political parties and groups in Spain. Interestingly, in the advert, these connotations happily coexist with the picture-perfect beach in the background. Highly charged concepts are, in this way, instrumentalised and used as props to further the advertisement’s plot.

Migrant perspectives on the Mediterranean

I also examined a series of migrant testimonies collated by the Spanish Commission of Help for Refugees (CEAR), a Spanish NGO dedicated to defending the rights of refugees, stateless people, and migrants who need international protection or are at risk of social exclusion. In their 2018 campaign “The Other Sound of the Sea”, the organisation interviewed 6 migrants who survived their trip across the Mediterranean fleeing poverty or war. The migrants were asked about their experiences of the crossing and the sounds that they associate with the sea. CEAR then placed these audio recordings in seashells and left them in various Spanish beaches to showcase migrant experiences.

In contrast to the Estrella advert, these testimonies evidence a distorted sense of hospitality. Migrants describe how they are expected to be grateful for having the opportunity to build a life in Spain yet are not given the space to voice their traumatic experiences or denounce the state’s abuse towards them. In one of the interviews, for example, Ibrahim explains that there is a lot of abuse in the detention centres upon arrival. He uses impersonal verbs and does not specify who is the abuser. For example, he states that “there is abuse in these centres” and that “not everyone treats people well”. Moreover, he ends these remarks by emphasising that “not all of them are bad, but there are some that don’t speak well to you”. It is impossible to know why he shifts towards a softer tone and a use of impersonal verbs here, but it might have something to do with the context in which the interview took place, that is, he is being interviewed by a Spanish organisation on Spanish soil. It is possible that he does not want to be overly critical and seen as attacking their host, that is, the Spanish state. A man called Kurami also speaks of his experiences at the detention centres, which held 1500 people at the time despite only having space for 400. He explains how some people spend six months in these centres, and that he had to stay there for 54 days. He finishes by simply saying “we are lucky”.

These testimonies are reminiscent of a warped relationship between a host and guest. Migrants are under pressure to show gratitude for having the opportunity to make a life in the country yet are not given the space nor the power to voice traumatic experiences or to hold the state accountable for the way that they have been treated. The experiences of migrants contradict the kind of image that the Estrella Damm advertisement is trying to portray. Migrants may speak of Spain as a secure place, in comparison with their home countries, but not necessarily as a hospitable place. The values of generosity, kindness, hospitality or altruism do not appear in migrant testimonies describing deathly journeys across the Mediterranean, only to be abused and treated with disdain upon their arrival on European shores. Listening to migrant voices and centring their experiences is key in highlighting what is ignored by dominant narratives. The narratives of those who are excluded directly challenges established assumptions; the imagery portrayed in the Estrella Damm advertisement turns sour when contrasted with the lived experiences of migrants.

Author Bio

Irene Garcia is an undergraduate student, studying History and Politics at the University of Warwick. Her areas of interest include migration, the history of Latin America and the contemporary history of Spain. She is currently preparing her dissertation on the experiences of Spanish migrants in Mexico in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.


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