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Mediterranean migrant crisis: York academics awarded funding for urgent projects

Posted on 15 September 2015

Two human rights experts from the University of York have been awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Urgency Call for proposals related to the Mediterranean migration crisis.

Dr Simon Parker and Dr Simon Robins, from the Department of Politics and Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) respectively, will conduct research with migrant and refugee populations who have entered Europe across the Mediterranean, as well as with the communities they have left in their countries of origin.

Among eight UK projects funded under the ESRC's Urgency Grants Mechanism - the first time the ESRC has activated such funding on a strategic basis, in response to a crisis – they will provide evidence to inform the development of policy and responses by governments, European agencies, and charities.

Providing £1 million to support leading UK social scientists, the ESRC projects will be co-funded by the Department for International Development.

Dr Simon Parker's project, Precarious Trajectories: Understanding the Human Cost of the Migrant Crisis in the Central Mediterranean, will provide an evidence based account of the human cost of the current Mediterranean emergency. Looking at complex migration trajectories, he will investigate how different state and non-state organisations add or reduce friction to the mobility of migrants, and how giving voice to migrants can support or challenge governmental and media representations of them.

Dr Simon Robins' project, Missing Migrants and Deaths at the EU's Mediterranean Border: Humanitarian Needs and State Obligations, will generate data to enable authorities to prioritise a systematic approach to the collection of information from both migrant bodies found in the EU and from the families of migrants seeking information about missing loved ones. Conducting research on the islands of Lesbos and Lampedusa, as well as in Tunisia and among Syrian refugee communities in Turkey, the project will permit new policies driven by the needs of the families of dead and missing migrants.

Dr Robins, Research Fellow in the University of York's Centre for Applied Human Rights, said: "The deaths of migrants and refugees seeking to enter the EU along its Mediterranean frontier constitute an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. A second crisis underlies these deaths however: for every body found at the EU's southern border, and for those lost at sea, there is a family awaiting news of their loved one. The missing are defined by the fact families have no news of a migrant's fate.

"The response of the EU and its member states continues to largely deny their responsibility to manage both bodies and data in ways that permit the identification of the dead and the rights of families to know. The Missing Migrants project, a one year research study, seeks to shed light on the policy vacuum that exists at national and EU levels by exploring the procedures adopted by authorities in investigating, identifying, burying and repatriating the remains of migrants, and understanding the needs of families of missing migrants in countries of origin. We are collaborating with the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University, Belfast, and the leading inter-governmental organisation working on the issue, the International Organization for Migration."

Dr Parker, Senior Lecturer in York’s Department of Politics, said: "In collaboration with colleagues at Goldsmiths, University of London our project aims to understand why refugees and migrants are undertaking these perilous and difficult journeys on an unprecedented scale and using advanced cartography and ethnographic film making techniques to document the human cost of negotiating the world's increasingly fortified borders".

Craig Bardsley, Head of International Development Research at ESRC, said: "Given the unprecedented levels of migration across the Mediterranean this spring and summer, and the catastrophic death toll that resulted, there was an urgent need for new research to better understand the dynamics and drivers of the crisis.

"With highly vulnerable people in the midst of a complex international crisis, there is an important role for highly trained, independent social scientists to gather accurate, reliable data. We hope this research programme will make a critical contribution to the evidence to support an effective policy response."