Migration, borders and digital technologies: a double-edged sword

  • Giorgia Donà (Invited speaker)
  • Laura Loyola-Hernánde (Invited speaker)
  • Petra Molnar (Invited speaker)
  • Netto, G. (Invited speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in workshop, seminar, course


This webinar will examine the double-edged nature of digital technologies: how such technologies can be used to maintain and reproduce hostile environments as well as be used by migrants and those who work with them to support resilience strategies.

Digital technologies include surveillance techniques, data sharing, smart borders, fingerprinting, AI and iris recognition. Digital border governance heavily relies on and accelerates the speed and scale with which surveillance, regulation and monitoring of mobilities operates. Digital systems produce bio-data: they are deployed in processes of identification, collection and categorization of the human body to produce large-scale digital databases. “Smart border” requires the labour of software developers, designers, engineers, infrastructure builders, border guards, systems experts, and many others. They are also reliant on the labour of “data-ready” travellers who produce themselves at the border, as well as the underground labour of those who traffic in informal and illegalized economies across such borders. Border-guarding takes place both at the external borders through prevention and deterrence of movement and inside borders through everyday monitoring and discrimination practices, locally, transnationally and globally. These systems operate in relation to one another in techno-borderscapes. The term describes digital everyday bordering as sites of online and offline encounters, contestations and disruptions among forced migrants and other social actors who also use mobile technologies.

At the same time, non-governmental organisations, activists and migrants themselves creatively use digital technologies as a form of resilience and resistance to bordering practices as well as to support migrants’ movements, provide peer-to-peer protection and connect with each other transnationally and locally. These forms of technology can play a particularly useful role in countries in the Global South which have not signed up to the obligations of the 1951 Geneva Convention, and where the majority of refugees are displaced. For instance, digital technologies have been used to enable refugees to acquire new languages in displaced contexts, gain literacy and support education. During the pandemic, such technologies have also been deployed to raise awareness of symptoms, where to go to access medical treatment, gain financial assistance and obtain food. Such systems are particularly helpful where support from government agencies and mainstream services is lacking. However, it is important to recognize that such strategies are enacted in power-laden structural contexts, where choices to access support and exercise rights are heavily constrained. Consequently, digital technologies appear to operate as a double- edge sword: they can be used as instruments of control and surveillance and as tools of resilience and resistance.

This seminar will address the following questions:

- How are digital technologies used as a double-edge sword?

- How is digital governance impacting migration?

- What forms of digital resistance to borders are emerging?

- How do migrants use technologies to bypass borders, provide peer-to-peer protection and support?

- How can a post-coloniality lens be used to understand the relationship between technology and migration?

Event typeSeminar


  • migration, digital tools