Missing Migrants

The refugee crisis visualised

Each year, millions of people have to leave their homes in search of a safer place. Too often, they don’t survive the journey. While global travel is cheaper and safer than ever, refugees are often forced to take unsafe passages out of their country. Rough circumstances and lack of access to facilities have brought about an actual refugee crisis. In this post we share our attempt at mapping the brutal reality of people dying in their attempt to flee their country. We do this to demonstrate the impact that effective visualization of a data set can have on creating understanding on a complex social challenge. To achieve this, we exclusively used open data and open source technologies. Click on the image below to see the full version.


Who, what, when, where?

Interactive map visualisation makes answers comprehensible

In Europe, the refugee crisis began in 2015. It really hit the news when five boats carrying almost 2,000 migrants to Europe sank in the Mediterranean Sea. The death toll was estimated at more than 1,200 people. But not only in Europe the number of asylum applications have risen tremendously. Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama have seen a 432% increase in refugee influx in the past few years. Along the United States–Mexico border, the number of deaths has also risen, totalling

thousands of deaths over the past five years.

While texts as above are bound to create sympathy, it is hard to thoroughly comprehend the scale of the problem by only reading snapshots of reality. The lack of a wide understanding of important social challenges such as the refugee crisis is problematic. When no comprehensive overview is available, how we can be sure to shape a fair view on the problem? How can we make sure that key decision makers have the information they need to most effectively address a problem? We need a good understanding of how things stand in order to take measures that effectively tackle problems surrounding the refugee crisis. 

Solving ignorance

While the reality of the refugee crisis is nothing less than depressing, we are excited to share our interactive app that visualizes the refugee crisis here for two reasons. First, to make the data on this problem easily accessible to everyone, and to assist key decision makers that can initiate more effective policies and sufficient facilities for migration. Second, to illustrate the immense power that data visualization can have for telling important stories, and enabling people to obtain a full perspective on a problem, rather than only what is selected by the media.

An incredibly impressive data set of all known news articles on people that have died or went missing in the refugee crisis has been collected by IOM Missing Migrants Projects (more information below). We present this data on an interactive world map. You can use the time slider on the bottom-left, or click on one of the clusters in the map (zoom for more detailed view) to obtain more insights in the supporting charts on specific areas or timeframes.

What can this mean for your organization?

While the refugee crisis is a very specific use case, this concept can be applied to many fields of knowledge. Some examples:

  1. Visualizing newly planted trees in a focus area, allowing growth and biodiversity monitoring

  2. Providing insight into the geographical spread of sustainable energy sources, and relating it to emissions

  3. Mapping where people mostly suffer from specific diseases, and relating this to measures that have been taken to prevent this.

Are you curious about how we can help your organization by visualizing your impact, or the severity of the problem you are aiming to tackle? Make sure to contact us through info@sodascience.nl, so we can set up a meeting to discuss the possibilities.

About the data set

The data set used for this app has been collected by  IOM's Missing Migrants Project. Missing Migrants Project tracks the deaths and disappearances of migrants along mixed migration routes worldwide. Since 2014, IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has recorded the deaths of more than 32,000 people globally.

Note from IOM about the data: While reporting of migrant deaths has improved, IOM is acutely aware that there is still a great deal more that needs to be done to improve data collection in some regions of the world. Caution is therefore needed throughout this report in interpreting the numbers. In most cases, they reflect only that which has been recorded, compiled and reported by a wide range of organizations and individuals, and then gathered by the MMP.

What is open data?

While internal data can certainly be sufficient for achieving your goals in data visualization, it is often true that data can be enriched with open data. At Soda, we are big fans of open data. Open data is essentially any data that has been made available, and can be freely used for building data science applications. Data is often made available when it is collected with public funds, or when the organization that collected the data believes that by making the data available for the public, it can inspire innovation which will help that organization achieve their own goals sooner.

About the technology

In addition to the fact that we use open data for this solution, we also fully make use of open source technologies. The map is based on Open Street Map, while interactivity is provided by JavaScript library Leaflet. On the back-end, we use a Mongo DB database, which is ideal for easily-scalable web solutions with dynamic datasets. The application is compiled using Node JS.

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