Why information matters

The need for accurate, useable and comprehensible information in mother-tongue languages

Clémence Finaz, Internews                                                                         Nada Ghandour-Demiri, Translators without Borders

Last week saw the first of six informal thematic consultations take place in Geneva under the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Over the next six months, the Mixed Migration Platform’s (MMP) seven partners will produce blog posts to coincide with the consultations due to take place in Geneva, New York and Vienna. The first thematic session sought to tackle the centrality of a human rights-based approach to migration policy, inviting UN delegations, civil society and the private sector to discuss its integration within the Compact consultation process. The second of three panels raised questions of social integration and cohesion of migrants, which this blog addresses, particularly regarding the importance of accurate and comprehensible information for those on the move – not only for protection but also for successful integration and inclusion from places of origin, to transit, and to countries of destination.

The migration situation in Greece illustrates how needs in a humanitarian crisis go far beyond food, water or accommodation. When migrants and refugees first arrive on the Greek shores, they often find themselves in an information vacuum.

Since mid-2015, access to information for refugees and migrants has been identified as an overarching gap in the response in Greece, a barrier that increases vulnerability, stress, and risk for those seeking protection. The needs have changed over time; since March 2016, the response has shifted from being an emergency to a protracted crisis. Many people have now been stuck in Greece for more than a year. Their information needs have changed but still remain acute, and many barriers still impede their access to the vital information they need.

Making decisions in a complex information environment where poor and confusing communications and inadequate provision of information in migrants’ languages is the norm

“The main problem here in Greece is the lack of information, nobody explains enough, many people lie, how can we get trustful information?” Iranian man, 49, Athens.

One of the characteristics of the current migration situation in Greece is that migrants and refugees come from a wide range of countries and ethnic groups, and, as a result, from highly diverse language groups where many dialects and accents are common.

Feedback from migrants and refugees clearly indicates that language and comprehension barriers are amongst the main obstacles to accessing vital information or services. The majority of the migrants and refugees interviewed by MMP partner Translators Without Borders said that they prefer to receive information in their mother tongue. However, this rarely occurs. Often the information is not translated into a language people can understand. For example, information is rarely translated into Kurmanji and Sorani, making it inaccessible to many Kurdish migrants and refugees. Furthermore, information is provided in formats that are not always readable and/or comprehensible. Some people do not know how to read, and therefore cannot access any of the written information provided to them. Sometimes, even if someone can read the information, it is presented in such a complex way (e.g. legal information on asylum procedures) that it is not easy to understand.

The main information needs of people involve clarity around registration and asylum procedures, and an ongoing, every day desire for improved information about access to services and options for accommodation or relocation.

In terms of uncertain and shifting registration and asylum procedures, migrants and refugees face long waits for decisions on their asylum or relocation cases, often not even knowing what steps or processes they need to take. This lack of control aggravates the situation and makes them restless and highly frustrated.

“We have no information here because nobody speaks French or our own local languages. So we have no clue about the different procedures” – Congolese man (26-35 yrs), Lesvos.

Meanwhile, as they wait, migrants and refugees navigating this context grow frustrated that humanitarian organisations are not communicating with them or are giving them confusing information, such as how long the asylum process will take, what the procedural delays are likely to be, and the eligibility criteria. This is made worse by language and comprehension barriers to accessing and understanding what little information is available. Poor or no internet access in some sites and the high price of data (for mobile phones) can exacerbate this, as accessing online information then becomes even more difficult.

The knock-on detrimental consequences for migrants and refugees

Please help us! We have no information on anything here, we have to depend on things we hear from others” – Afghan woman (18-25 yrs), Malakasa.

Access to reliable and accurate legal information is a prerequisite for people to cope with the uncertainty of their situation and to make informed decisions on next steps. Due to this shortage of reliable, easy-to-understand information, people tend to rely on word of mouth. The information gap is sometimes filled by other, less trustworthy sources, such as smugglers providing dubious information on migration routes, putting people at further risk.

The barrier is not just with official information, but also advice on day-to-day needs; miscommunication due to language barriers has many negative knock-on effects. Another major concern reported was the difficulty in communicating with medical staff at hospitals. An interpreter may be needed for doctor appointments, but it can take days or even weeks to find one. Some migrants and refugees have reported this, which leads to delays in necessary treatment, with significant health consequences.

“The doctors only speak Greek and English and many of us only speak Arabic. This lack of communication hinders proper treatment and full understanding” – Syrian Kurdish man (36- 49 yrs), Ritsona.

In other interactions with the host community, such as with staff at public institutions, teachers in schools or civil servants at the Greek Asylum Service, there is often misunderstanding or misconceptions. Language barriers can exacerbate the sense of being treated disrespectfully, whether this is intentional or not. The lack of local language learning opportunities also affects a sense of acceptance from the host community, with negative consequences for social inclusion and prospects for better integration into Greek society.

What to do? Encouraging policy makers to recognise the need for better communication with communities and the use of comprehensible information as an integration enabler

Overall, people reported that a sense of uncertainty is preventing them from moving ahead with their lives. The lack of communication and information on the procedures and duration of the asylum application process is seen as a huge source of frustration and desperation for migrants and refugees. To address this problem, MMP partners Internews and Translators without Borders produce daily, fact-based, useful, migrant and refugee-focused information for the affected populations, which is translated into at least four languages and made available both on and offline.

As there is uncertainty around the future of the response and the continued presence of INGOs in Greece, considering the information and communication needs of migrants and refugees is vitally important. Greater efforts must be placed by all actors in recognising the multiplicity of these information needs, including a demand for both face-to-face and online channels for communication. Policy makers, in particular, must further recognise the importance of easily-accessible and comprehensible information for supporting the well-being and aiding the integration of both migrants and refugees. If we are to ensure modern humanitarian response for migrants and refugees remains effective and relevant to current-day communication trends and patterns of movement, it must place the diverse information needs of people on the move at its centre.

What to read on mixed migration: March 2017

Our monthly round up of new resources provides an overview of new research and reports about mixed migration to, from and within the Middle East.

    • REACH in collaboration with MMP has produced a new research report entitled ‘Separated Families: who stays, who goes, and why?.


    • A new two-part feature article published by MMP addresses the displacement trends and protection needs of Somali, Sudanese, and Yemeni refugees and other migrants in Jordan (click here to access Parts I and II).


    • UNHCR has mapped the spread of border fences and internal border controls in European countries, pointing out border fences in six European countries including Bulgaria, FYROM, Greece, Hungary, France, and Spain.


    • In a March report entitled ‘A Tide of Self-Harm and Depression’, Save the Children details the repercussions of the EU-Turkey Agreement on the more than 5,000 children living in ‘detention-like facilities’ in Greece.


    • IOM has released the results of its global research project, MECLEP (Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Evidence for Policy), in a report entitled ‘Making Mobility Work for Adaptation to Environmental Changes’.


    • In a recent photo series, The Washington Post documents the lives and experiences of Syrians in Turkey. The photos span four years and were captured by photographer Emin Ozmen.


    • In early March, Refugees Deeply published an in-depth article about the failures of ‘the most expensive humanitarian response in history’.


    • ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group has released a new working paper addressing the lack of humanitarian access in Syria.


    • A joint brief from IRC, Save the Children, and nine other organisations focuses on the situation of unaccompanied and separated children in Bulgaria, FYROM, Serbia, and Croatia.


    • The Project on Middle East Political Science has compiled and published a collection of workshop reports addressing the effects of migration and displacement in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as analysis with a focus on Europe.


    • IOM and DGMM have released the findings of surveys conducted between November 2016 and January 2017 with more than 2,000 refugees and other migrants in Turkey.


    • The New Arrivals Project brings together four major European newspapers (the Guardian, Le Monde, El País, and Spiegel) to tell the integration stories of newly arrived communities in their respective countries over a period of 18 months.


    • RMMS monthly summaries of mixed migration issues and news in the Horn of Africa and Yemen region are accessible here. Summaries from West Africa are available here, and 4mi (Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative) reports from the Central Asia and Southwest Asia region are available here.


This reading list is an excerpt from our Monthly Migration Summary for March 2017. If you have a report you’d like to see on this list, or would like to be added to the mailing list, let us know.

What to read on mixed migration: February 2017

Our monthly round up of new resources provides an overview of new research and reports about mixed migration to, from and within the Middle East.

  • The Danish Refugee Council in Turkey has released a new synthesis of migration trends in and around Turkey in 2016 and 2017. The report highlights key mixed migration trends in Turkey, including border controls, apprehensions, returns, trafficking, smuggling, and protection concerns.
  • In a new report entitled ‘The Lives and Livelihoods of Syrian Refugees’, the Overseas Development Institute presents the perspectives of refugees in Turkey and Jordan, as well as their institutional environment, to better understand the lives of Syrians living outside of camps in these two countries.
  • Refugees International has released a new study examining the challenges faced by non-Syrian refugees in Turkey particularly around lack of assistance, housing, health, livelihoods and durable solutions.
  • New research from the Refugee Rights Data Project seeks to fill the data gaps relating to refugees and other migrants in Greece.
  • A recent Amnesty International publication critically examines the human rights impact of the EU-Turkey Agreement. Also in February, Amnesty International published its 2016/2017 International Report on the state of the world’s human rights.
  • In a February mini-feature, Forced Migration Review presents four new articles highlighting the risks of deportation and the need for independent post-deportation monitoring. The final article focuses specifically on returns under the EU-Turkey Agreement.
  • A recent article in The Conversation describes a global hierarchy in which Afghans have become ‘second-class asylum seekers’ compared to Syrians, Iraqis, and other groups.
  • A February report from Refugees Deeply outlines the difficulties that come with trying to estimate the number of deaths that have occurred on the Mediterranean, particularly due to the lack of official records by European authorities at the continent’s borders.
  • AIDA, the Asylum Information Database, published its 2016 country reports for Bulgaria and Belgium in February. These reports, along with those for twenty other European countries, document asylum procedures, detention, conditions, and current protection situations.
  • RMMS monthly summaries of mixed migration issues and news in the Horn of Africa and Yemen region are accessible here. Summaries from West Africa are available here, and 4mi (Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative) reports from the Central Asia and Southwest Asia region are available here.

This reading list is an excerpt from our Monthly Migration Summary for February 2017. If you have a report you’d like to see on this list, or would like to be added to the mailing list, let us know.


Mixed Migration Platform: A new data and information resource on mixed migration flows in the Middle East

Migration is not a new phenomenon. Despite this, the recent movement of tens of thousands of people, primarily from Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries, to Europe has captured the public’s attention in new and staggering ways. This is particularly true of irregular migration. Given its unclear definition, a perceived lack of order marks it out as a ‘phenomenon’ that needs to be addressed.

The increase in the rate of migration of people to Europe over the course of the past three years has been a double-edged sword.

While it has shown that people on the move have critical needs, it has dominated the conversation, minimising the attention paid to other mixed migration movements in the Middle East, within different African regions and in Asia. As irregular migration to Europe has endured, attitudes towards people in mixed migration flows there, and further afield, have evolved. Initially people moving towards Europe – principally individuals in precarious protection situations – were welcomed and received with empathy; with continued arrivals, this compassionate reception shifted, and as borders became enforced the effects were felt all along the routes people travelled.

Mixed migration flows – which can be made up of refugees, asylum seekers, smugglers, traffickers, economic migrants, and other groups of displaced persons – are a reality of modern migration. They can be, and often are, non-linear and non-homogenous, and vary in size and composition (inclusive of race, nationality, religion, education and so on). In recent years the conflict in Syria has played a significant part in mixed migration flows to, within and from the Middle East; so too have conflict situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and countries in the Horn of Africa. The movements of people in the Middle East exist on a large and varied scale. With much of the attention focused specifically on Syrian nationals within these flows, information around the humanitarian, social, economic and political implications of the movement of other nationalities in the region has been less highlighted.

In relation to such large scale and enduring migration in the region, three things have become evident:

  1. Major information gaps exist and there is a need to undertake data gathering, research and analysis to address these.
  2. Advocacy around key issues relevant to mixed migration flows is needed.
  3. People moving irregularly often have acute and differing protection concerns, as well as key information needs.

In response to this, seven international NGOs (ACAPS, DRC, Ground Truth Solutions, IMPACT Initiatives, Internews, INTERSOS, and Translators with Borders) have come together to address these key issues regarding mixed migration in the Middle East and have created the Mixed Migration Platform (MMP). The platform’s work is divided into two pillars – the generation and dissemination of quality data, research and analysis to inform the policy, programming and advocacy work of relevant actors, and the provision of quality data to people within mixed migration flows moving to, within and from the Middle East. MMP will also strive to ensure the utility of the information generated through outreach including conferences, workshops, bilateral meetings and representation at key events.

As one MMP partner states, information changes lives, and with this in mind the platform will work to ensure the vulnerabilities of those within mixed migration flows, are addressed.

MMP has begun preliminary analysis and is in the process of developing a comprehensive website that will provide a repository for its work. While this development is in process, check back here for mixed migration related blog posts and content in the coming weeks.