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New project to model migrant flows aims for better service provision

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Migrants arriving at the European Union's borders will be better provided for thanks to a €4.87m research project to predict and manage migrant flows.    

Brunel University London is one of 14 institutions across Europe set to work on ITFLOWS, a 3-year project led by the Autonomous University of Barcelona and funded by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Brunel Law School and the Department of Computer Science will use their €595,500 share of 4.87 million Euros to develop the evidence-based EUMigraTool, models of migrant flows and a report on the legal frameworks needed to offer the right services.

"Predicting where migrants will arrive and managing their needs are major challenges for the European Union, and for stakeholder groups who provide resources and assistance to migrants along their journey," said Prof Alexandra Xanthaki, a leading expert on minority and migration rights in international law, who will lead Brunel's involvement in the project.

"The so-called ‘European migration crisis’ that exploded in 2015 would have been different, were the member states and the EU prepared for the great inflows. Deaths of migrants could have been avoided in winter months because of the lack of services. EUMigraTool aims to help prevent such unnecessary deaths by giving the chance for member states and the EU to have the right services in place for when the inflows come."

Simulation scientist Dr Derek Groen said: “By repurposing our approach for these different cases, we aim to make it more widely useful. We also hope to identify additional ways in which we can use our techniques to help migrants, and the organisations supporting them.”    

But as predictions get more and more accurate, there's the potential for an increase in security risks to individuals. "Our research has to walk a difficult line between human rights and security issues," said Prof Xanthaki. "By identifying inflows of migrants, you could make them targets, especially if they are scared that their state of origin knows where they're going. International and European policies seem to acknowledge the security aspects and our aim is to help alleviate the international human rights aspects of the crisis. In this project, we will discuss how the international and European legal frameworks can find this balance."

Once the project is complete, it is hoped that EUMigraTool will be of use to institutions in the EU and beyond. "We hope that the European Commission, the member states and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will benefit," she said.

The work will also involve various organisations already closely associated with Brunel. Among them, the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and experts from the civil society that are partners for Brunel's innovative Athens Refugee Project, in which law students give their time and expertise to help refugees and unaccompanied minors.

Prof Xanthaki added that the project complements Brunel's other work on these issues, including the Athens Refugee Project and our postgraduate programme at the cutting edge of migration law, the MA in Migration Law, Policy and Practice. "This research project consolidates Brunel's worldwide reputation as an important hub for migration and refugee studies, based in our law and computer science departments."

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