Researchers launch refugee crisis awareness website Digital Refuge

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Lily Hu/Staff

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Researchers from UC Berkeley and UC Davis partnered to launch Digital Refuge, a website designed to chronicle the experiences of refugees displaced by war.

Digital Refuge was unveiled on World Refugee Day, which took place Wednesday. Researchers, including principal investigator and campus law professor Katerina Linos, sought to tell the stories of refugees in order to humanize them against a narrative “dominated by government and NGOs” that depicts the refugee crisis as an alarming problem.

“Our hope is that Digital Refuge will help governments, aid organizations, policymakers, and the public to better understand and address refugees’ everyday issues and concerns,” Linos said in a press release.

Given the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, numerous refugees must take up residence in Greek camps en route, according to the website. The attention surrounding the crisis has intensified recently because of the Donald Trump administration’s policies regarding family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as travel bans instituted on several countries.

The website itself provides many features that analyze the refugee crisis, from interactive maps to informational text breaking down the journeys and perspectives of European refugees, as well as social media discussion of the crisis.

The interactive maps measure qualities such as access to Wi-Fi, mean family income of areas surrounding camps and what percentage of each camp is occupied. The social media analysis, meanwhile, tracks different countries’ sentiments toward the refugee crisis by how positive and negative their Facebook posts are.

“You can’t truly care about refugees if you don’t care about their stories and where they came from,” said Sana Alsamman, member of Students Organize for Syria and daughter of Syrian immigrants, in a text message. “The refugee crisis gets the most media attention, but do people really know why these innocent families had to leave?”

Linos said three methods were implemented to put together the projectthe team traveled to do fieldwork, conducted more than 6,000 interviews with refugees to get their stories and examined Facebook posts to determine the role of social media in awareness of the issue.

Information was also taken from official reports and data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Union and the Greek government, according to the website.

The project itself is funded primarily through a Carnegie fellowship granted to Linos, as well as from seed funding from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, or CITRIS, and the Banatao Institute on campus, according to the press release. To continue this project, Linos hopes to use grant money to go back to Greece and conduct more research.

“Heartless immigration policies, including separating families at the U.S. southern border, underscore the importance of understanding the living conditions and needs of migrants and refugees worldwide,” Linos said in the press release.

Contact Madeleine Gregory and Jasmine Sheena at [email protected].