New method based on geolocated data from Twitter detects refugee flows worldwide

April 22, 2020

A team led by researchers of IFISC (CSIC-UIB) has developed a new method to detect refugee flows worldwide. The work, based on geolocated data from the social network Twitter and carried out in collaboration with UNICEF, has allowed researchers to understand where refugees are passing through and in which areas they are concentrated when they leave their countries of origin. The results, published in the journal PLOS ONE, allow authorities and NGOs to improve the management and concentration of aid to refugees. The study focused on Venezuela's migration crisis, which has caused some four million Venezuelans to leave their country between 2015 and the end of 2018, according to United Nations (UN) data.

They have developed the data processing method and contrasted it with official data, all with a practical objective from the beginning of the study and always in line with the information needs that UNICEF has provided. According to the researchers, monitoring migration flows is key to responding to humanitarian crises and developing effective policies. This information often comes from surveys and border controls, but a lack of accessibility and a lack of a clear picture of what happens after crossing borders reduces its usefulness.

Based on geolocated data from Twitter, researchers checked whether users were resident in Venezuela during the months and years prior to the crisis and monitored their aggregate mobility when they left the country after the start of the confrontation between the government and the opposition. They checked their entry into other countries, which cities they were concentrated in and whether they continued their journey to third destinations. Finally, they contrasted these data with those collected by the authorities at border crossings.

The calculated flows are consistent with official statistics, and the method is versatile and far-reaching, as it can be used to study different characteristics of migration, such as preferred routes, areas of settlement, mobility across several countries, spatial integration in cities, etc. It also provides precise geographic and temporal resolutions, allowing for the exploration of issues not covered by official records. Scientists hope that these new sources of information can complement official ones and help authorities and humanitarian organizations better assess when and where to intervene on the ground.

Mazzoli, M.; Diechtiareff, B.; Tugores, A.; Wives, W.; Adler, N.; Colet, P. & Ramasco, J. (2020) «Migrant mobility flows characterized with digital data». PLoS ONE, 15(3): e0230264. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230264


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