The connected migrant


The migrant today is no longer an uprooted person? "Here and now", this major attribute of the global society, this promise of information and communication technologies (which are programmed to produce immediate teleaction, instant telepresence,) questions more than ever the figure of the migrant, traditionally attached to "neither here nor there". This is a complex historical and sociological transformation, because ICTs do not only affect communication that supplants absence, but also all aspects of the migrant's life.

Starting with the initial project, built no longer through the stories of returning elders, but often after a good Google search. Migrants first cross the computer frontier - "through the screen" as they say - long before they cross the geographical frontier. Detention centres for undocumented migrants are not only physical prisons but also have digital walls, like the SIS (Schengen Information System) or other registration files for foreigners. The smugglers, too, have adapted to this digital environment, and offer solutions for passage "through the screen" and tricks to "get (or become) clean" in the computer.
Upon arrival in the destination country, the mobile phone has become an imperative not only to find a job but also to "stay connected" and reassure the family left behind. Mobile phones have undeniably eased the specific constraints encountered by an undocumented and often homeless migrant population. Its widespread access has become particularly significant.
In host societies, this technical support has generated the emergence of various spontaneous, multiple and individual social integration mechanisms that have informally supplemented the institutional integration system. Conversations via Skype and social platforms such as Facebook, RenRen or VKontakte have become part of migrants' daily lives and have transformed the remote link: now it is no longer a matter of brief episodic communication, but a way of living together at a distance.

A particularly relevant environment for the migrant

Another major change that has occurred since the 1980s in the field of diasporas is the multiplication of communities dispersed in physical space and their new forms of grouping, action and occupation of digital territories. All the more so as the web, which is inter-relational, interactive and transnational in essence, is a particularly relevant environment for diasporas. It was immediately invested by the diasporas. As a major instrument for the circulation of information and freedom of expression, the Internet offers dispersed communities a new place for alternative communication, representation and action that allows the development of diverse expressions of identity.
As early research points out, migrant researchers and engineers are at the origin of the occupation of the web by diaspora groups. These networks of highly qualified people (based outside their country and claiming to be from a place of origin and identity) used their technical and scientific skills as well as their global dispersion to settle on the Web. Often starting from the simple project of building "a successful net-based business model"Their sites have become real catalysts and incubators for various diasporas: what was originally a personal network of relations has later become an ethnic enterprise, a political party or association, etc.

Networks of highly skilled migrants, now called "knowledge diasporas"The circulation of knowledge via academic matching is increasingly being promoted, to the detriment of migrant repatriation. Thus, over the last ten years, dozens of dating sites based on ethnicity have appeared. This matrimonial web of migrants gives rise to a new form of family reunification and ethnic commerce, posing the equality "to trade" = "to network" = "to navigate, to move, to migrate".

Accessibility as a factor of autonomy

Also in the area of the migrant economy, there are major changes in the area of remittances. By launching the "Global Money Transfer Pilot Uses Mobile To Benefit Migrant Workers And The Unbanked" programme at the Barcelona Congress in 2005, the GSM Association has brought about a radical change in the field of migrant remittances. This programme was born out of an empirical observation: while migrants and their families are well connected via mobile networks that cover more than 80% of the world's population, they have little access to banking services.
Since this programme, many projects have been launched at the initiative of certain countries, such as the Philippines, where the transfer of money by telephone, which has become a state policy, has led to the birth of many innovative companies.

These initiatives bring banking and communication corridors together. The interviews conducted by the researchers show that mobile telephone technologies allow for autonomy, which is much appreciated by migrants, regardless of their origins or particular features.

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This impulse towards autonomy is evoked in an explicit way: "to be the master of one's possessions elsewhere" or "to give to one's own but also to keep for oneself". By promoting the accessibility of places and remote action, ICTs offer an unprecedented opportunity in migrant societies to develop individual strategies that were hitherto undetectable because they were inhibited by the weight of collective decisions. Migrants who are usually overexposed to the duties of solidarity can now better manage their resources and also, implicitly, their relationship to places and others.

Being present, the migrant's second job

Until recently, the definition of a migrant referred to a series of ruptures and oppositions inherent in his or her destiny. These have been constantly put forward as an organizing principle of a whole theoretical reflection on populations on the move, as in the "double absence" theses affirming, as Abdelamaek Sayad that "the science of emigration is a 'science of absence' and the absent". This quotation sums up the ethos of a whole century of literature on the subject of migration.

This sense of lost authenticity and unfinished modernity was undoubtedly true in the past. But it appears that this vision can no longer account for the transformations in the relationship of migrants to space and connection, to a society living in an era of generalized mobility, and to an environment "enhanced" by communication and information technologies.

The uprooted, as a paradigmatic figure of the migrant world, is moving away and making way for another figure, still poorly defined but which is recognized as corresponding to that of a connected migrant who works rather in a logic of presence.
We can agree with Christian Licoppe which, in the tradition of pragmatic thinking, proposes that "being present, (...) is a job, which relies on skills, dispositions and devices, resources and constraints to affect and be affected by situations". And thus conclude that for many migrants, the imperative to be present "here and there" has become a second job. It is precisely this transformation that the digital age brings with it in the world of migration.

e-diaspora: How to visualize a migrant community on the Internet

The e-diaspora study aims to make a comprehensive mapping of migrant communities intelligible. However, unlike traditional maps, the latter do not represent a real territory but a virtual one, made up of forums, association sites, blogs or community media.

- What are the uses of ICTs by migrants?
Migrants are profoundly linked to technology: once vectors of technological innovation between countries - a role now played by the Internet - they are now very particular users of ICTs.

- What are the digital traces related to migration?
Subjected to increasingly drastic surveillance and control, migrants have been facing for the last ten years or so the collection of their personal data by immigration countries such as the United States or the European Union.

- What lessons can be learned from connected migrants?
Cheaper and cheaper telephone packages, faster and faster Internet connections, technologies that are becoming more efficient... Undeniably, the rise of new information and communication technologies allows migrants, thanks to this virtual umbilical cord, to keep strong links with their families back home. But it would be illusory and limited to apprehend these technological changes only on an individual scale!

Dana DiminescuProfessor at Télécom ParisTech 
(Source : digital-society-forum.orange.com)

©Photo of the American John Stanmeyetaken on a beach in Djibouti, a transit point for migrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, won the prize in the most prestigious photojournalism competition, World Press Photo. February 2013.

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