Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | SDG1
April 18, 2019

How returning migrants are using technology to share their stories

By Angela Smith, ITU News

“I feel at home again, happy to be with my family and friends,” says Alpha, a migrant from West Africa who has returned home from Algeria. “I missed this while I was in Algeria, where I faced so many bad things. My human dignity was taken from me.”

“We travelled together, witnessing a lot of people dying in the dessert,” said Umar and Habib, on returning to Nigeria.

“When I came back to Nigeria, I felt so excited, because there’s no place like home,” said another migrant, Harmless Brown, using social media to tell her story.

Returning migrants like Ms. Brown are sharing their unique stories of the dangers, disappointments, and often hardships endured by leaving their own countries in search of a better life.

Migrants as Messengers is an innovative information awareness campaign project set up in West Africa by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) aimed at raising awareness of the dangers and risks associated with irregular migration. It uses smartphone technology for migrants to share authentic accounts of their migration experiences, and to disseminate them through different social media platforms and social networks.

Watch the video below for a brief overview:

The project underlines the importance of information and communication technologies in the field of migration, and contributes towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, notably Goal No. 1: No Poverty.

How the project came to be

William Quiviger, information campaign specialist at IOM’s Media and Communications Division, explained how the project began to participants at a session on harnessing technology for refugees at the WSIS Forum 2019 last week.

“Research shows that potential migrants in West Africa have a general distrust for traditional top-down information campaigns,” says Quiviger. Migrants, he said, “are more likely to believe information that they get through their own communities and social networks.”

Quiviger highlights that “there are clear information needs, and a lot of misconceptions about the risks of the journey, and the quality of life abroad.”

The first phase of the pilot project, funded by the Dutch government, began in November 2017, and has recently been completed. It covered three West-African countries: Senegal, Guinea and Nigeria.

The main target audience for the awareness raising campaign was potential migrants ‒ people considering leaving home to find a better life abroad ‒ and a second target audience was their families and communities.

Four key objectives

There were four key objectives for the project:

  • To capture stories and testimonies from returning migrants who had experienced the journey, and had returned home and were keen to share their stories.
  • To leverage peer-to-peer networks. According to IOM, Facebook is the most commonly-used social medial channel on which to disseminate returnee stories.
  • To collect real-time feedback from the field and get people’s different learning experiences of the campaign to continuously fine-tune the campaign.
  • To conduct a rigorous evaluation of the campaign to obtain tangible data of its impact on the target audiences.

“We wanted to catch these stories from returning migrants keen to share their story,” said Quiviger, explaining that an important component of the campaign involved IOM staff working closely with hundreds of volunteer migrant returnees. “Many returnees signed up to become volunteers as field officers to record and film their testimonies,” he added.

“We wanted to leverage peer-to-peer networks like Facebook to disseminate returning stories,” said Quiviger. “We also wanted to collect feedback from the field.”

You can read the stories on the Migrants as Messengers Facebook page.

During the project there were more than a thousand video interviews collected of migrants filming other migrants, and more than 2 million views were accumulated, according to IOM.

“We used a very participatory approach,” highlighted Quiviger, “whereby all the different activities, field mission, town halls… were done in lock step with the migrants… there were focus groups, discussion groups, questionnaires etc.”

Where the technology comes in

At the core of the campaign was a smartphone, a tripod, a small LED light and a microphone ‒ a cheap but impactful technology to help migrant returnees to become digital journalists and interview fellow migrants.

IOM, in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, developed the Community Response App (downloadable free on google app store) which the returnees were able to download on their smartphones to enable the easy recording and online publishing of videos during the campaign.

Watch the video for more information:

The campaign took advantage of “a simple technology that goes a very long way in disseminating a message to a very broad audience”, says Quiviger.

“It seems trivial, but we could not find an application that helps you run interviews easily when in the field, and then publish them through a low connectivity,” he said. “A typical scene in the field would have migrants interviewing each other, and disseminating on social media networks.”

Three takeaways from the project

According to IOM, Migrants as Messengers is the first pioneered peer-to-peer messaging with smartphone technology where migrants themselves are drivers of the campaign, and are involved in the planning, design and implementation.

The technology used is very simple – easily downloadable on all devices – and, importantly, it can be repurposed for other forms of communication or awareness raising.

IOM has conducted a rigorous impact evaluation using randomized field trials, the results of which will be in the final report to be published in the coming months.

Next steps

A second phase of the awareness campaign project is about to begin, and will include an additional four countries in West Africa.

Check out the WSIS Forum 2019 website for this and other innovative tech for good initiatives. Participants discussed how information and communication technologies are being used, and can be harnessed further, to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

View the WSIS Forum Webcast Archive here.

Conakry, Guinea. Photo courtesy of Migrants and Messengers, via Facebook.
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How returning migrants are using technology to share their stories

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