IGF 2023 WS #334 Robots and Refugees: Border Tech and Human Rights


Human Rights & Freedoms
Non-discrimination in the Digital Space
Technology in International Human Rights Law

Organizer 1: Petra Molnar, Refugee Law Lab, York University; Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

Speaker 1: Florian Schmitz, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 2: Petra Molnar, Civil Society, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 3: Nery Santaella, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 4: Greco Monica, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Petra Molnar, Civil Society, Intergovernmental Organization

Online Moderator

Petra Molnar, Civil Society, Intergovernmental Organization


Petra Molnar, Civil Society, Intergovernmental Organization


Round Table - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

A. How are new technologies used for border and migration management infringing on people's fundamental human rights (equality and freedom from discrimination, privacy rights, right to asylum, etc)
B. How should the development and deployment of high-risk technologies be regulated at national, regional, and international levels? For example, does the EU's proposed AI Act sufficiently deal with border technologies?
C. What does meaningful participation of affected communities look like in policy discourse, and what approaches can be employed that do not tokenize the involvement of people at the sharpest edges of technological development but rather foreground their experiences and expertise?

What will participants gain from attending this session? We hope to create a welcoming dialogue and learn with and from participants who are interested in migration. Our project is unique because we work directly with people-on-the-move who are in situations of forced displacement, some of whom do not have bank accounts and access to resources yet who want to work on the impacts of border surveillance on their communities. We will canvass best practices from participants who have engaged in similar projects with other groups and learn together how to co-design participatory approaches to best support mobile communities (more information about our fellowships: https://www.migrationtechmonitor.com/fellowship). We also hope to create an open environment in which to openly discuss the many uncomfortable realities of working within systems predicated on vast power differentials that continually and systematically excludes those with lived experiences of displacement, particularly when focusing on the vast human rights impacts of border technologies and other high-risk projects.


Refugees, migrant, and people-on-the-move are often left out of conversations around technological developments. Like other communities historically marginalized, they are testing grounds for new technologies. These high-risk technological experiments range from biometric mass surveillance in refugee camps, to automated decision-making in immigration and refugee applications, to AI lie detectors deployed at airports. But technological solutions do not address root causes of displacement, forced migration and economic inequality, all factors exacerbating the vulnerabilities communities-on-the-move face. For conversations on the impacts of technology to shift towards the lived experiences of people, communities and individuals living through these technological experiments must be in the driver’s seat.

The Migration and Technology Monitor is a multilingual living and growing archive (Arabic, French, Spanish, and English). It is also the incubator of a ground-breaking fellowship for people-on-the-move to tell their own stories about border surveillance. Through this fellowship program, we create opportunities for people with lived experience to meaningfully contribute to research, storytelling, policy, and advocacy conversations from the start, not as an afterthought. Among our aims is a collaborative, intellectual, and advocacy community committed to border justice. Our new fellowship program opens up these spaces of collaboration, care, and co-creation of knowledge. In this workshop, we will reflect on the learnings of our inaugural fellowship and on how to support work on the human rights impacts of technologies from a grounded participatory perspective. We also hope to spark conversations around the politics of funding and knowledge production, which privilege perspectives housed within established institutions like academia, intergovernmental organizations, and big philanthropic players and turn the conversation to what it takes to meaningfully create and practice participatory methodologies when designing programs, research, and influencing policy, empowering mobile communities to be in the driver's seat of policy and research.

Expected Outcomes

The expected outcomes of this workshop are for our interdisciplinary team to share what we have learned and create connections with others doing similar community grounded work with people made marginalized. We will produce a short report and accompanying media piece after the Forum, including a plain-language publication on our multilingual Migration and Technology Monitor platform. We will also hope to brainstorm how best to create an ongoing community dialogue after the workshop, perhaps through the creation of a mailing list and inviting interested participants to join our monthly calls in which we meet with our colleagues from mobile communities and strategize around policy, advocacy, and research directions. We also hope to connect our fellows who are in active situations of displacement with interested partners who are working on or developing strategies on border and migration technologies, facilitating a collective co-creation of knowledge prioritizing lived-experience as expertise.

Hybrid Format: We are delighted to hear that IGF 2023 is planned in a hybrid format, as this will make our workshop as accessible as possible – both in terms of attendance, as we would like to make it as feasible as possible for our colleagues who are currently in situations of displacement to join the workshop, as well as allow for simultaneous translation and closed-captioning of the workshop for participants as they need (if the platform allows). We will endeavour to make the roundtable as interactive as possible for those joining us online, for example though a breakout room where people will have an opportunity to interact with each other. At least three of the roundtable participants also plan to attend the IGF in person, including the moderator, and the moderator has experience presenting and teaching in hybrid formats at Harvard University and York University, among others.