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 hit record numbers in 2016. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) over 5,100 people were recorded dead or missing, representing 1.38 per cent of all those attempting the maritime crossing into Europe.
Reducing the number of deaths requires an understanding of the overall process of maritime crossing, to identify where the greatest dangers lie and to more effectively direct rescue operations.
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 to gain a better understanding of collective rescue activities in the region.