How academia informs migration policy and data development

The need to improve knowledge and understanding of migration data is now acknowledged globally to be essential for informing and challenging policies on migration and asylum and to encourage balanced debate.

The Global Compact on Migration, adopted by 181 countries on 10th December 2018, highlights as its first objective to “Collect and utilize accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies”.  

Ann Singleton, Senior Research Fellow in the School for Policy Studies, has been one of the key experts in improving knowledge and understanding of migration data. She has initiated, led and supported national, regional and international efforts to improve the evidence base, most recently in the development of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC).

Ann is widely recognized as a lead expert in the production and use of international migration data in policy development. She is a member of the UN Statistical Division’s Expert Group on Migration Statistics, currently revising the international recommendations on migration statistics. She has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and EU Presidencies, the Global Migration Group, national governments, NGOs and international organizations.

Ann wrote the European Commission’s first Action Plans on migration and asylum statistics, prepared the first EU online annual report on migration and asylum and pioneered, working with Eurostat, the first EU legislation on migration and international protection statistics.  With the IOM’s GMDAC, she advises governments and regions on migration data capacity building. She is the lead academic for the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) project on Migration, Development and Global Transformations and Vice-Chair of WUN’s ‘Understanding Cultures’ Global Challenge. For twenty years she has led work to bridge the gap between the data, policy and academic worlds in the field of migration. To consolidate such collaboration, a Strategic Alliance was created between the Worldwide Universities Network and IOM, led by the University of Bristol and IOM.

These achievements have been in the context of trying to create a more balanced debate and to influence policy in a highly politicised arena where, for example, increased migrant deaths can be seen by countries as policy successes on the grounds that they deter migrants.

Ann pioneered, with Eurostat. the development and introduction of new European Union law and guidelines on the collection, analysis and reporting of migration and asylum data for policy. The legislation - which she describes as one of her most significant achievements - required member states, for the first time, to make public and transparent their data on migration and asylum. As a result, the EU is now recognised as the global region with the best migration and asylum data, even though the data still have serious shortcomings

More recently, her secondment from the University as a Senior Adviser to the IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), funded by the ESRC, Policy Bristol and IOM, led to the creation of the strategic alliance between academia and the policy world. Ann describes this as the ‘embodiment of what needs to happen at a worldwide level’. She adds that this collaboration between the IOM–GMDAC and UoB has shown that it is possible for researchers and policy experts to work together on migration data and policy in a way that is ‘relevant to the needs of migrants, the world and its citizens’.

Ann also leads the Worldwide Universities Network, Migration, Development and Global Transformations (MDGT) programme. This brings together WUN migration researchers and data expert activities, supported by the ongoing research and policy collaboration between the UoB and IOM GMDAC. Ann’s early activity at UoB setting up cross faculty workshops to talk about borders and migration issues also helped lay the ground for the creation of the Bristol Institute of Migration and Mobility Studies (BIMMS).

Ann has used her experience with the EU to produce capacity building regional guidelines for capacity development for West Africa. These now are adopted by ECOWAS and will inform similar efforts in different regions in Africa to build an evidence base on migration in the social and economic context. They are also being used as an example of good practice by UN officials and by many governments.

Migration Data Portal

In her work with  IOM-GMDAC, Ann was instrumental in supporting the IOM GMDAC team who produced the Migration Data Portal. This brings together for the first time the major migration data sources, with links to  available data, and explains how to access, analyse and report data for policy. This makes it an indispensible tool for policy makers, researchers and anyone interested in migration: the Bureau of Investigative Journalists lists it in its top ten most useful sites. With Aidan White, the President of the Ethical Journalism Network, Ann co-authored a chapter in Fatal Journeys (Vol 3, Pt1). She has also delivered training for journalists in Brussels with the International Federation of Journalists and has given regular briefings on problems with migration data to journalists from publications such as Reuters, the Times and FT. 

The Global Migration Group's ‘Handbook for Improving the Production and Use of Migration Data for Development’ edited by Ann, is aimed at policy makers and other interested parties who seek to understand the complexities of international migration and development.

International Summer School on Migration Data for Policy

The first International Summer School on Migration Data for Policy was set up and led by Ann in 2018 as part of the WUN-IOM Strategic agreement, and brought together both producers and users of migration data. This will be established as annual WUN-IOM event at UoB.

The Migration Data Portal will be a core resource for dedicated training sessions to help government officials understand how to improve their data collection, analysis and reporting so they can monitor progress towards meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It is a capacity development approach, which is adaptable and usable in every country across the world. According to Ann, the approach is to develop the evidence base and establish a new paradigm for understanding migration and mobility relating to the social and economic development needs countries.

Participants from17 countries across four continents attended the first Summer School event and worked with international scholars, experts, UN government officials to learn how to implement global standards and best practice. This has been achieved through Ann’s connections, built up over decades, with IOM sponsorship enabling local government officials from the poorer countries to attend.  Ann describes the Summer School as one of the most ‘concrete outcomes’ of her work with the IOM GMDAC and further evidence of the importance of GMDAC’s work.

Raising awareness of the scale of migrant deaths

Objective 8 of the Global Compact on Migration reads as follows: Save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants. In the second part of the IOM report Fatal Journeys Volume 3 co-edited by Ann, it was shown that migrant deaths are vastly under-reported. This received national media coverage, contributing to public awareness of the scale and incidence of deaths. The report also included five key recommendations for improving the data. More recently, Ann contributed to a pull-out Supplement by The Guardian on migrant deaths.

Now helping to prepare Fatal Journeys 4, her work is focusing on improving data on children who die or go missing during migration. She is a Founder signatory of the Last Rights’ Declaration for the Dignified Treatment of all Missing and Deceased Persons and their Families as a Consequence of Migrant Journeys (the Mytilini Declaration) and will lead a WUN initiative to establish UNESCO accreditation of sites of migrant deaths.

Engaging in the public debate about migration

Ann has published and spoken widely on asylum and international migration policy and statistics in the UK and the EU. She is a regular media spokesperson on the topic of asylum and migration. For example, she has appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme and been quoted in The Guardian in a supplement on migration and deaths.

Ann was also a key speaker at the M-Shed event, The Truth about Migration, in Bristol in 2018.  During the autumn of 2018 she delivered the following talks to audiences of experts, senior civil servants, MPs and Members of the House of Lords: 

Lead researcher

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