Deadly Data Gaps: How Lack of Information Harms Refugee Policy Making

Interview with Galen Englund by Charlotte Alfred: “The U.N. Refugee Agency recently released its annual estimate of the world’s displaced population: 65.6 million. This figure is primarily based on data provided by governments, each using their own definitions and data collection methods.

This leaves ample space for inconsistencies and data gaps. South Africa, for example, reported 463,900 asylum seekers in 20141.1 million in 2015 and then just 218,300 last year. But the number of people had not fluctuated that wildly. What did change was how asylum seekers are counted.

National estimates can also obscure entire groups of people, like internally displaced groups that governments don’t want to acknowledge, notes Galen Englund, who analyzes humanitarian data at the ONE Campaign advocacy organization.

Over the past year, Englund has been digging into the data on refugees and displaced populations for the ONE Campaign. It was an uphill battle. He collected figures from 67 reports that used 356 differently worded metrics in order to identify the needs of displaced populations. “Frequently information is not there, or it’s siloed within organizations, or there’s too much bureaucratic red tape around it, or it just hasn’t been collected yet,” he said.

His research resulted in a displacement tracking platform called Movement, which compiles various U.N. data, and a briefing paper outlining displacement data gaps that concludes: “The information architecture of humanitarian aid is not fit for purpose.” We spoke to Englund about his findings….

Galen Englund: There’s several layers of massive data gaps that all coincide with each other. Probably the most troubling for me is not being able to understand at a granular level where refugees and displaced people are inside of countries, and the transition between when someone leaves their home and becomes displaced, and when they actually cross international borders and become refugees or asylum seekers. That’s an incredibly difficult transition to track, and one that there’s inadequate data on right now….(More)”.