Through Migration Trail, a new online interactive project, you can follow the journeys of two migrants to Europe in real time. Data visualizations, text messages from the migrants to friends and family, and an accompanying podcast all contribute to a 10-day experience. Migration Trail debuted on November 20 and unfolded for the first time over 10 days. Now all its material is available to start at any time.
“Telling the story in real time was a way to make it urgent and immediate for an audience — that you find out about events right as they’re happening,” Alison Killing, creative director of Migration Trail, told Hyperallergic. “The two characters that we follow in the data visualization have their stories told via their instant messaging feeds — these are fictional characters, but based on true stories, composites — which is also a very intimate way of telling the story. It’s told in a colloquial, very familiar way, and you also receive it on your mobile phone, in your personal space, wherever you are.”
One character is a Nigerian man named David, age 30, who begins at a smuggler’s house in Tripoli, and the other is a Syrian woman named Sarah, age 19, who has been living in İzmir, Turkey, since she fled her country’s unrest in 2015. These fictional characters were based on over two years of research and interviews by the production team, with their text message narrative available in English and Dutch (and Arabic for Sarah). The podcast, with an episode for each day, features interviews with five people Killing met along migration routes to and through Europe, as well as NGO workers, volunteers, border police, truck drivers, policy makers, and academics.
Migration Trail was funded by Creative Industries Fund NL, Netherlands Film Fund, Dutch Media Fund, Arts Council England, and WIRED/the Space Creative Innovation Fellowship. Killing explained that she started developing the idea that became Migration Trail in 2014. “At that point there had been an increase in the numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean and a series of shocking tragedies — shipwrecks, capsizings, large numbers of deaths — but without the level of media coverage that the situation seemed to demand,” she said.
“The maps and data were about being able to give a lot of context for the characters’ journeys and show how the personal stories were influenced by the larger political and social context,” Killing said. “Also, I’m an architect and urban planner by background, so making maps is a very natural way for me to represent ideas.”
Visitors to Migration Trail can zoom in on data about David and Sarah, like their proximity to Wi-Fi access and how much phone battery they have left (both major lifelines for traveling migrants), or zoom out to see broader data sets, such as where Syrians claim asylum, their chances of getting those claims accepted, the locations of border walls, and migrant deaths and their causes. In spring of 2018, the production team plans to release Facebook bots that can deliver the migrants’ messages to users’ phones in an on-demand 10-day narrative, and add an Afghan woman as a third character.
While migration in Europe continues, many people remain unaware of the policies that influence it, the war, persecution and job scarcity that fuel it, and the obstacles faced on these individual journeys. As Killing stated, “Those things aren’t that well known outside of groups of specialists working in migration, so I think we’ve been able to tell a deeper, more surprising story than people are used to hearing.”