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Forced Migration Warning System Goal of Georgetown Researchers

Susan Martin

"There’s been a gap in the international response and very often the international agencies get it wrong,” says Susan Martin, director of Georgetown's Institute for the Study of International Migration, on the effort to create an early warning system for forced migration.

December 18, 2013 –Georgetown faculty members are researching the use of big data to create an early warning system for forced migration and population displacement.

Leading the effort as co-principal investigator is Susan Martin, director of the university’s Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

“There’s been a gap in the international response and very often the international agencies get it wrong,” says Martin, who helped found ISIM in 1998 after serving as executive director of the now defunct U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. “We aren’t able to forecast who is going to move from where to where under what circumstances with what duration.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding the research.

Raptor Database

The grant will help Martin, also the university’s Donald G. Herzberg Professor of International Migration, and her colleagues to create a multidisciplinary community of scholars and practitioners to create a pilot of a large-scale, data-intensive early warning system for detecting forced population displacement.

She said better forecasting ability would help in pre-positioning supplies, knowing what kinds of help people need and averting mass displacement.

“Forecasting the Break: Building Community and Capacity for Large-Scale, Data-Intensive Research in Forced Migration Studies” is the first funded project that makes use of Raptor, an archive of open source media built over several years as the result of another major project.  Raptor comprises over 600 million unstructured media articles in 40 languages from 22,000 sources and grows daily.

Historians and anthropologists, computational scientists and other scholars at Georgetown as well as from Fairfield, Fordham, York and Sussex universities and several organizations, will use the Raptor database to find patterns of forced migration in the past that may help forecast future events.

Exploring Big Data

“Developing an effective early warning system of population displacement requires collaboration and shared learning between subject matter experts who understand the factors that contribute to forced migration at the macro, meso and micro levels,” reads Georgetown’s NSF grant proposal, “and technical experts who understand how to collect, store, mine and analyze masses of data derived from international, national and local sources.”

Martin’s co-principal investigators are Lisa Singh and Sidney Berkowitz of the computer science department and Jeff Collmann, a professor in the microbiology and immunology department

Raptor is the kind of database the recently launched McCourt School of Public Policy, with its Massive Data Institute, will be able to access.

“For Georgetown faculty interested in exploring the implications of ‘big data"’ for their own work, Raptor offers a real, locally-controlled and affordable opportunity to get started,” Collmann says.

Online Certificate

Another example of ISIM’s innovative approach will begin in the spring semester, when Martin will begin teaching an online version of ISIM’s International Migration Studies Certificate program – Global Trends in International Migration. Georgetown’s Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL) funded the course.

“This program is aimed at people already in the field, maybe at a dead end within the area that they’re working on and gives them an understanding of the full array of issues,” Martin says. “Consistently, the organizations they work for have said they’d love to send more people to the program, but that it’s just too expensive to fly people to Washington.”

Martin will teach the first version of the course, which comprises eight weeks with two modules per week.

Crisis Migration

There’s a component to it in which we’ve been looking at the situation of migrants who are already outside their country working or studying who are caught in humanitarian crises."

Susan Martin, ISIM Director speaking about Crisis Migration

Another current ISIM project – on crisis migration –is funded with a more than $1 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“There’s a component to it in which we’ve been looking at the situation of migrants who are already outside their country working or studying who are caught in humanitarian crises,” explains Martin, who is regularly asked to testify in Congress on immigration reform and related issues. “This includes both conflict and acute natural hazards, flooding, hurricanes and the like.”

Martin says ISIM worked with the U.N. secretary general’s special representative on international migration, Peter Sutherland, for a high-level dialogue in the U.N. Assembly on international migration and development this past October.

ISIM used the grant to conduct research to identify where there were gaps in protecting migrants in these situations, and also identified some of the more effective practices for responding.

Research to Action

Sutherland included the research in his report to the high-level dialogue.

Martin says the United States and the Philippines announced at the dialogue that they would co-chair an initiative to develop a framework for protection of migrants and invite other governments to join them.

“Quite a number of governments expressed interest,” Martin says. “So this was a concrete example of how our research led to action.”

Climate Change

Susan Martin and the Institute for the Study of International Migration are world leaders in one of the most important issues of our time."

James Reardon-Anderson, School of Foreign Service Acting Dean

Chair of the World Bank’s Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD) working group on climate change and migration, Martin has been writing about the environment and migration since the 1980s and recently published on the subject in the Journal of Environmental Planning and the Journal of Global Governance.

“Susan Martin and the Institute for the Study of International Migration are world leaders in one of the most important issues of our time,” notes James Reardon-Anderson, acting dean of SFS. “Susan has done path-breaking research on international migration and shares her expertise with students at Georgetown and professionals in the United States and abroad. After having offered courses and certificates on campus for many years, this spring she will pioneer the first online course for practitioners in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.”

‘Much, Much More’

Martin has authored or co-authored nine books. Cambridge University Press will publish her 10th book, International Migration: Evolving Trends from the Early 20th Century to the Present, sometime in 2014.

The ISIM director, who will be on sabbatical for 2014 spring and fall semesters, says the institute has accomplished “much, much more than what we expected” in its 15 years.

“We started out thinking that we would just do policy-related research and we didn’t really have many expectations beyond that,” Martin says. “The policy-related research is still a core part of our activities, but we have a much broader research agenda than we had in the beginning.”

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