Using Big Data to Study Rescue Patterns in the Mediterranean

Abstract

Despite policy and media attention and a significant increase in search and rescue efforts, the number of deaths of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea hit record numbers in 2016.

UN Global Pulse worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on a project that analyzed new big data sources to provide a better understanding of the context of search and rescue operations.

The project used vessel location data (AIS) to determine the route of rescue ships from Italy and Malta to rescue zones and back, and combined it with broadcast warning data of distress calls from ships stranded at sea.

The insights were used to construct narratives of individual rescues and gain a better understanding of collective rescue activities in the region. Findings showed a change in the pattern of distress signals over time, with signals being recorded closer and closer to the Libyan shore, forcing rescue operations to venture and expand beyond initial search-and-rescue zones.

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