Rebooting the Asylum System? The Role of Digital Tools in International Protection
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way asylum systems use technology. After the initial pause on asylum processing in many countries, officials have turned to digital tools to revive these systems—and increasingly, to reimagine how they work. From the further digitalization of identification and security-check processes to chatbots that help asylum seekers register their protection claims and interviews conducted remotely via video call, such tools have permeated every corner of migration, asylum, and border management systems. This is particularly the case in Europe, where the 2015–16 migration and refugee crisis kickstarted a first round of growth in this area.
With digital tools here to stay, the time is ripe to examine what impact their use has on people and processes, and how digitalization may interact with other developments in the international protection field. This report—part of the Beyond Territorial Asylum: Making Protection Work in a Bordered World initiative led by MPI and the Robert Bosch Stiftung—catalogues the use of digital tools in protection systems in Europe and elsewhere, and reflects on what the ramifications could be for humanitarian protection in the years to come.
“Digitalization in and of itself is no universal cure,” the author writes, “and depending on how such efforts are carried out, they could obstruct the asylum process and violate asylum seekers’ rights as easily as they could facilitate or protect them.” This report highlights both the potential benefits of the increasing use of digital technology in different stages of asylum processes as well as key challenges and risks that need to be addressed, including concerns about data privacy, opaque decision-making, and how technology changes the nature of human communication.
2 COVID-19 as a Catalyst for Digitalization in Humanitarian Protection
3 How Digital Tools Are Transforming Asylum Systems
C. Processing of Asylum Claims
D. Decision-Making in Asylum, Migration, and Detention Procedures
E. Early Warning Systems, Forecasting, and Scenario-Building
4 Delivering on the Promise of Digitalization and Mitigating the Risks
A. Generating Efficiency Gains in Workflows, Staffing, and Infrastructure
B. Reducing Arbitrariness in Decision-Making
C. Strengthening Communication between Agencies and with Asylum Applicants
D. Improving Migration and Asylum Intelligence
E. Recognizing Security as a Driver of Digitalization and Addressing the Risk of Mission Creep
F. Running a Humanitarian Protection System Remotely