Dr. Amanda Alencar was awarded the Stichting Erasmus Trustfonds Grant for her research project "Refugee settlement, place-making and digital technologies in the cities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam". She will develop this project in connection with the Vital Cities and Citizens Erasmus Initiative.
Migration is driving much of the increase in urbanization, making cities much more diverse places in which to live. More than 60% of world refugees reside in urban areas, with many facing difficulties in becoming a full part of the economic, cultural, political and social lives of their newly adopted societies. Cities can play a crucial role in promoting sustainable integration initiatives based on cultural diversity, social cohesion and human rights. However, local governments oftentimes lack the necessary preparation to manage the complex circumstances deriving from forced migration processes. During the 2015-2016 period and the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, we have seen a proliferation of digital initiatives (e.g. hackathons, tech-company supported apps, platforms, etc.) developed by activists and aid organizations to assist refugees arriving in Europe and beyond (Benton & Glennie, 2016). These digital initiatives for the most part failed to take refugees’ lived realities into consideration, with a few managing to excel. At the same time, the deployment of digital technologies has been consistently emphasized by government and humanitarian organizations as crucial to promoting refugees’ self-reliance and well-being, as well as to implementing innovative solutions to address the integration challenge (UNHCR, 2016).
This project aims to explore the ways in which digital media technologies can be effectively and creatively used to shape the actions of municipalities and local citizens for the emancipation and participation of refugees as new citizens of their host community. In order to do so, this project integrates a multi-stakeholder perspective into the analysis of the proliferation of interactions between digital media and inclusive practices in cities. Throughout the different project activities, it will be possible to further examine the complexities and contradictions of technology use by refugees, while at the same time providing a more nuanced perspective on the potentials of digital responses to refugee settlement in the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In line with the objectives of the ‘Vital Cities and Citizens’ Erasmus Initiative, Dr. Alencar hopes to identify the conditions that can propel more meaningful, inclusive and ethical technological developments and uses through co-creative approaches, methodologies and practices for the settlement of newcomers.
Dr. Alencar’s years of research and connections with refugee communities, migrant organizations, municipalities, as well as her work with consultancies and NGOs have given her an entree that will be crucial for the development of the project in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The project will start in September 2020 and will involve a junior researcher working in the different stages of fieldwork research. The findings from the project will inform the co-creation of a toolkit for a digital/data/design literacy workshop dedicated to the interests and needs of refugees, as well as policy recommendations regarding technology access, use and provision for refugees across various contexts in both Dutch cities. Throughout the duration of this 15-month project, critical discussion points about the interviews and conversations with refugee and management actors, as well as about the digital/social media platforms analyzed will be shared in the website that will be set up for this project.