Monday, February 5, 2018

“Grassroots Intelligence”: Data Collection by Medicines Sans Frontières

Photo: Marketing Material at Medecins Sans Frontieres Rome Office, by Maria Silva
“Grassroots Intelligence”: Data Collection by Medicines Sans Frontières
By Maria Silva, MIMS

A large number of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) actively serve and advocate for migrants in Rome. These organizations fill gaps in support services that government and other state actors fail to address. This past January, students from the University of San Francisco visited Rome to get a better understanding of Refugee Service Management from CSOs including Medicines Sans Frontières (MSF). Because of its proximity to and consistent engagement with migrant populations, MSF possesses valuable data and expertise related to migrants as well as an understanding of how migration policies impact the lives of the latter. How can this data be used to influence policy?

As first responders on the ground, MSF has a clear understanding of the migratory experience, including the variety of assets and needs of different migrant populations. Their grassroots knowledge must not stay within the confines of the Organization but be transmitted in such a way that is timely and calls governments into action.

Intergovernmental organizations have explicitly called for dialogue and engagement with CSOs. Scholars often name the United Nations as the model Intergovernmental Organization in this regard for soliciting input from CSOs throughout the development of programming and policy. It is currently doing so through thematic discussions for the Global Compact on Refugees. Additionally, Intergovernmental Organizations including the European Union often integrate input from CSOs in their policy making processes. Thus, data and expertise from MSF and other CSOs we visited ideally influence migration policy making. How do these elements unfold in practice?

“The Missing Migrants Project (MMP) tracks incidents involving migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, who have died or gone missing in the process of migration towards an international destination”. The MMP is the only database systematically compiling global information on the death and disappearance of migrants. The MMP relies heavily on data collected by CSOs. For example, incidents that occur in the Mediterranean are reported by organizations that receive survivors in Italy and Greece, including MSF.

Data collected through the MMP and its contributing CSOs ideally reaches policy makers through briefs and reports such as Fatal Journeys. Fatal Journeys is a periodical report, this particular volume makes five policy recommendations related to migrant deaths and disappearances. Recommendation number two calls states to investigate deaths and identify victims, a duty they must adhere to under international human rights law. In this way, the data collected by MSF in the Mediterranean reaches the hands of policymakers and ideally influences their decision making process.

Another example of the use of MSF and other CSO’s Grassroots Intelligence is through the European Union (EU) Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the EU’s primary source of information regarding human rights. The FRA’s mission is to advance a culture of fundamental rights across Europe by collecting and disseminating timely data, sharing evidence-based advice with policy makers and raising awareness about fundamental rights. Per the request of the European Commission, the FRA publishes monthly overviews of the human rights situation of migrants arriving in the EU. The monthly overviews rely heavily on interviews and data collected by CSOs. For example, the August 2017 Overview cites information from MSF, Caritas, Human Rights First and Amnesty International amongst others. In addition, the “Policy Responses” section of every overview highlights actions taken by European states as well as by the EU in general. Per the guiding mission of the FRA, said policy responses should have been made in consultation with data provided by the FRA. In this sense the FRA acts as a platform for the colleagues we met at MSF and Caritas in Rome to disseminate their data to reach policy makers.

As designated sources of expert knowledge, the FRA and MMP are mediums for data collected by MSF and other CSOs to reach policy making bodies. Publications like Fatal Journeys and the monthly overview attempt to influence the discourse that leads to policy making. The effectiveness of these means to actually shape policy is difficult to measure. However, there is an intentional pathway for the grassroots intelligence of CSOs to be a part of the policy making agenda and conversation. The advocacy work of MSF, in addition to the comprehensive services we learned they provide, is to be commended.