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Crowdsourcing a Better Understanding of European Youth Migration

The European Union may not be equipped to properly track the movements of young migrants, but a plucky group of data journalists called Generation E wants to pick up the slack.
November 29, 2014, 1:00pm
Photo by Environmental Protection Agency on Wikimedia Commons

An estimated hundreds of thousands of young people have moved from southern Europe to the north over the past few years, but thanks to a lack of coordination between EU countries, no one knows exactly how many migrants are living far from home, or where they are. It's left up to individual nations to track the movements of their people, and there are all sorts of complications involved in that task—for instance, many Spanish and Italian migrants are worried about legal snafus if they register at their respective consulates upon moving to another country, so they simply avoid all that hassle and as a result remain uncounted.


The result is that the official figures vastly underestimate the true number of people who have emigrated from southern Europe, and miscounting that population could have far-reaching policy implications.

" Generation E," which calls itself "a cross-border data journalism project," is trying to fill in the gaps, however. The organization's survey has been filled out by more than 1,220 self-selected respondents, and the results include not just numbers but personal narratives and opinions, giving the group a chance to go behind the raw data. Among the fascinating takeaways is the fact that many immigrants within Europe have begun to shed their national identities to varying degrees and think of themselves simply as Europeans.

Heading up the effort is data journalist Jacopo Ottaviani. I spoke with him a few days ago and went over their initial findings.

VICE: How did this idea come about?
Jacopo Ottaviani: We started talking about this project around March. When I say "we," I'm talking about colleagues from Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy. We are marrying this new methodology, this new approach to journalism that is cross-European. It's not national anymore. There was a cross-border data journalism project called The Migrants Files. After that, part of the team started Generation E, and we followed the same project management style and methodology. We are living in four different cities, in different countries, [and] some of us are expats, so we feel it's kind of personal.

How helpful are the official statistics from the various European countries?
The official statistics are not exhaustive. They are based on the data that come from the consulates and the foreign offices of the countries. I am talking for example about A.I.R.E., the office that records all the Italians that live abroad. Every country has this office. The point is that not all of the migrants go and register themselves because it's not mandatory since we have [the] Schengen agreement that allows us to go around [within Europe].


Why do you think more people don't register at foreign offices?
Something very interesting is that if you register at one of these offices then you lose—for example—the right to health assistance in your country, [and] it's not very clear what happens if you register. There is a lot of misinformation, so a lot of migrants decide not to do that. [They often] feel like, At some point I'll go back to my country, and they prefer not to register themselves.

Do you believe that this lack of reliable survey data also allows for more nefarious narratives to emerge?
There is a lot of populism and a lot of bad rhetoric around these "bad southern European migrants who go around and steal jobs," or "invade the north," but this is not true at all simply because most of these highly skilled migrants who go abroad start companies that create jobs. I've met people who do that. And in some stories we received there is this factor that nobody considers.

Were there any common narratives that emerged?
I analyzed the Italian responses myself. From the Italian point of view I can tell you that most of the people complained about the lack of meritocracy in Italy. I don't know if you know about nepotism…

Yes, we have it in Greece too.
This is something common in all southern Europe I would say. I don't have scientific data on this but this is a common narrative that emerged from the stories too. Another narrative is a lot of people who migrated are ex-Erasmus students.

Were there any results that you didn't expect to find?
People who have this kind of experience change their national identity. They don't feel stuck anymore. I mean, they keep feeling Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Greek. But they really see their identity change. And they find themselves more European than before.

So if they move to Germany or Britain, they don't say, "I'm German" or "I'm British." They say, "I'm European."
Yeah, that's more common. Some of them will say "I feel half German and half Greek," but it's more common to hear people who just talk about Europe.

Are you a young person that emigrated from southern Europe? Fill out the online questionnaire at the "Generation E" website here.

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