business applications

Big data for migration study - Big Data applications to boost mitigation preparedness and response to migration feasibility study

The continued instability in several areas in the Middle East, Africa and Asia has resulted in an unprecedented displacement of people at a global level and an increased influx of migrants and refugees in Europe, especially through its South-eastern and Mediterranean borders. In the context of this study the whole complex of migration is considered:

  • Mitigation: why do people move? Assessing the root causes of migration, such as families falling apart due to poverty, impact of natural disasters, and – most often – instability caused by conflict.
  • Preparedness: early warning & alert concerning migration onsets
  • Response: ascertaining human rights, registration and tracking, humanitarian assistance, monitoring hot spots and safe houses, border control, monitoring seas, integration at destination countries
  • Repatriation: support sustainable reintegration to avoid renewed mitigation.

In that context, harnessing big data towards strengthened mitigation, preparedness, and response capacities requires:

  • Evaluating new procedural approaches to ease the exploitation of traditional and new data and information for supporting event or change detection activities relevant to migration fluxes.
  • Developing and tuning advanced analytics features, including but not limited to data mining, machine learning, automatic change detection, for supporting the prioritization of target areas for security surveillance, identify highest probability locations for events of interest, recognize patterns or behaviours and discover hidden relationships.

Users and their needs

The management of the migration crisis is a complex process that requires significant capacities and cooperation/coordination amongst several stakeholders, from different sectors: EU Agencies, National Coordination Centre, humanitarian aid and civil protection actors, NGOs involved on day-to-day management of the migration crisis, national authorities.

Information required from the users are classified in two major areas:

  • Activities concerning countries of origin and transit countries
  • Activities related for and by destination countries.

The requirements are categorised according to

(a) the location along the migration route, and

(b) the main capacity areas: mitigation, preparedness and response.

In addition to determining their key needs and requirements, the study investigates the actions required to set-up agreements with users / stakeholders for post-project service exploitation and funding.

The following table shows the list of involved end users and relevant countries:

In addition, key international users are involved in the study through the European Space Agency: Frontex, EASO, IOM and SatCen

Service/ system concept

The following set of key services based on the exploitation of big data from space integrated with collateral source of data have  been proposed:

  • Change detection / trend estimation based on big EO data analysis
  •  Internal Movement analysis from of mobile phone and social media data Situational awareness at hot spots, crossing points, safe houses, camps
  • Monitoring of situations
  • Indices for sudden onset/slow onset events including socio-economic data and monitoring of changes


Space Added Value

The proposed services:

  • Provide evidence based indications on how current Earth Observation based services can offer their optimum contribution to user organizations for migration, and more generally civil security and humanitarian aid;
  • exploit large set of  Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data for the envisaged service chains;
  • improve monitoring capabilities using VHR data and data from microsatellite constellations
  • analyse the integration of open source and social data (e.g from Twitter, GDELT Project) 
  • provide anomalies detected from mobile data as input to geospatial based monitoring and searching services

The envisaged End Users benefits are:

  • Large-scale multi-temporal conflict monitoring for a more comprehensive situation awareness of decision makers with the aim to support conflict prevention/monitoring or even conflict resolution to mitigate migration
  • Analysing the overall situation exploiting big-data multi-temporal sources in the areas of known border hot-spots or safe houses,  in order to anticipate and monitor variation in migration flows
  • Validate in situ information

Services can be provided:

  • Embedding outputs of our service architecture directly within existing platforms of End Users
  • Providing a standalone platform feeding ready-made products to interested users (at EU or national level)

Current Status

The Project explored big data sources including:

  • Mobile phone data
  • Social Media data
  • Traditional source of data (administrative sources, border statistics)
  • Satellite data (e.g.: SAR, EO, SAT-AIS);
  • Intelligence data (e.g.: OSINT and HUMINT).

identifying the legal, technical, economic constraints relevant to their application in support to identified use cases, as well as characterise added value hidden information. The first interactions with the users (“interview”, “mock-up” presentation) have allowed a finer understanding of their requirements, their operational, technical, legal or other constraints, and their main interests across the three emergency management phases

The diversity of users in terms of their operational mandate and activities portfolio calls for a diversified services portfolio and business model whereby the value offered to them is also multi-faceted.

Next steps will be

  • Services fine tuning
  • definition of service architecture enabling the big data ingestion, processing , storage; exploitation, discovery and visualization;
  • formalization of the sustainability analysis and the roadmap for the demonstration services implementation. 

Project Managers

Contractor Project Manager

Michela Corvino
e-GEOS, 965, Via Tiburtina,
00156 Rome RM
+ 39 06 4079 6363

ESA Project Manager

Davide Coppola
ESA/ESTEC, Keplerlaan 1, PO Box 299
2200 AG Noordwijk ZH
+31 (0) 71 56 56405

Status Date

Updated: 04 December 2017 - Created: 04 December 2017