World stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia, warns UN human rights expert
by Philip Alston
Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty
17 October 2019
A senior UN human rights expert has expressed concerns about the emergence of the "digital welfare state", saying that all too often the real motives behind such programs are to slash welfare spending, set up intrusive government surveillance systems and generate profits for private corporate interests.
"As humankind moves, perhaps inexorably, towards the digital welfare future it needs to alter course significantly and rapidly to avoid stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia," the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, says in a report to be presented to the General Assembly.
The digital welfare state is commonly presented as an altruistic and noble enterprise designed to ensure that citizens benefit from new technologies, experience more efficient government, and enjoy higher levels of well-being. But, Alston said, the digitization of welfare systems has very often been used to promote deep reductions in the overall welfare budget, a narrowing of the beneficiary pool, the elimination of some services, the introduction of demanding and intrusive forms of conditionality, the pursuit of behavioural modification goals, the imposition of stronger sanctions regimes, and a complete reversal of the traditional notion that the state should be accountable to the individual.
"Digital welfare states thereby risk becoming Trojan Horses for neoliberal hostility towards social protection and regulation," said the UN Special Rapporteur.
"Moreover, empowering governments in countries with significant rule of law deficits by endowing them with the level of control and the potential for abuse provided by these biometric ID systems should send shudders down the spine of anyone even vaguely concerned to ensure that the digital age will be a human rights friendly one".
Alston said governments justified the introduction of expensive and complex biometric digital identity card systems on the grounds that they would improve welfare services and reduce fraud.
"The process is commonly referred to as ''digital transformation'' by governments and the tech consultancies that advise them, but this somewhat neutral term should not be permitted to conceal the revolutionary, politically-driven, character of many such innovations," Alston said.
"Systems of social protection and assistance are increasingly driven by digital data and technologies that are used for diverse purposes, including to automate, predict, identify, surveil, detect, target and punish."
The dominant role of the private sector in designing, constructing and even operating significant parts of the digital welfare state is a major reason for concern, according to Alston.
"Most Governments have stopped short of requiring Big Tech companies to abide by human rights standards, and because the companies themselves have steadfastly resisted any such efforts, the companies often operate in a virtually human rights free-zone," said Alston.
The human rights community has thus far done a very poor job of persuading industry, government, or seemingly society at large, of the fact that a technologically-driven future will be disastrous if it is not guided by respect for human rights and grounded in hard law. There is no shortage of analyses warning of the dangers for human rights of various manifestations of digital technology and especially artificial intelligence. "But none has adequately captured the full array of threats represented by the emergence of the digital welfare state," the UN expert said.
The report is based on several country visits as well as a global consultation that drew submissions from more than 30 countries around the world. There is remarkable consistency in the empirical evidence from countries in the high income countries in the north as well as from the Global South.
Visit the related web page
Conflict, violence in Burkina Faso displaces nearly half a million people
by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
11 Oct. 2019
Conflict, violence in Burkina Faso displaces nearly half a million people.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is joining its partners to warn about the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso’s central and northern regions where each day the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilian are being disrupted by insecurity and violence. Some 486,000 have been forced to flee within the country, 267,000 of whom in the past 3 months alone. A further 16,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries.
The escalating armed violence is causing an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in the Sahel. While visiting Kaya, northeast of Ouagadougou, and Barsalogho, in the central Sanmatenga Province, we witnessed firsthand the dramatic impact of these tragic events on the affected population.
Thousands of people are on the move, exhausted and trying to find safety among host families or at transit and official travel sites. Many have been repeatedly displaced. The prospects for their immediate return to where they come from are poor. As a result, their needs and those of host families, already vulnerable by food and nutrition crises in the region, are growing. Women and adolescent girls face particular threats given that health and other essential services are lacking.
People we met had endured horrifying and traumatic events, with reports of more than 500 being killed in 472 attacks and counter-military operations since last year. We heard reports that basic services such as health care and education, as well as freedom of movement, have been severely affected by the attacks and by generalized insecurity.
Currently, all of Burkina Faso’s 13 regions host people fleeing violence. The Centre-Nord region hosts the largest number of displaced people - more than 196,000 in Sanmatenga province alone - followed by the Sahel region - 133,000 in Soum province. Some 1.5 million people are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in the country. We also remain extremely worried about 31,000 Malian refugees also affected by the ongoing conflict.
One thing was absolutely clear. Humanitarian needs are rising fast as conflict and insecurity continues to devastate hundreds of thousands of lives. Hosting communities are already impoverished, living on margins themselves. Food, water, shelter, and healthcare has to be arranged and reinforced immediately if we want to avoid another tragedy within this tragedy. Malnutrition and starvation are a real threat.
We need urgent resources to launch a coordinated humanitarian response – an immediate necessity to save lives.
Armed groups have also intensified attacks in Burkina Faso neighbouring countries of Mali and Niger. Regions around the three countries’ borders are new hotspots of violence. Operating in sparsely populated, impoverished regions with little Government presence, armed groups are roving across borders and expanding areas of influence. Attacks have already spilled over into Benin in 2019. Overall, 5.4 million people in the affected regions need urgent assistance, including 3.2 million in Mali, and 700,000 people in western Niger. http://bit.ly/2ozXerE
1 Oct. 2019
Greece must act to end dangerous overcrowding in island reception centres, EU support crucial
UNHCR is today calling on Greece to urgently move thousands of asylum-seekers out of dangerously overcrowded reception centres on the Greek Aegean islands. Sea arrivals in September, mostly of Afghan and Syrian families, increased to 10,258 - the highest monthly level since 2016 – worsening conditions on the islands which now host 30,000 asylum-seekers.
The situation on Lesvos, Samos and Kos is critical. The Moria centre on Lesvos is already at five times its capacity with 12,600 people. At a nearby informal settlement, 100 people share a single toilet. Tensions remain high at Moria where a fire on Sunday in a container used to house people killed one woman. An ensuing riot by frustrated asylum-seekers led to clashes with police.
On Samos, the Vathy reception centre houses 5,500 people – eight times its capacity. Most sleep in tents with little access to latrines, clean water, or medical care. Conditions have also deteriorated sharply on Kos, where 3,000 people are staying in a space for 700.
Keeping people on the islands in these inadequate and insecure conditions is inhumane and must come to an end.
The Greek Government has said that alleviating pressure on the islands and protecting unaccompanied children are priorities, which we welcome. We also take note of government measures to speed up and tighten asylum procedures and manage flows to Greece announced at an exceptional cabinet meeting on Monday. We look forward to receiving details in writing to which we can provide comments.
But urgent steps are needed and we urge the Greek authorities to fast-track plans to transfer over 5,000 asylum-seekers already authorized to continue their asylum procedure on the mainland.
In parallel, new accommodation places must be provided to prevent pressure from the islands spilling over into mainland Greece, where most sites are operating at capacity. UNHCR will continue to support transfers to the mainland in October at the request of the government.
Longer-term solutions are also needed, including supporting refugees to become self-reliant and integrate in Greece.
The plight of unaccompanied children, who overall number more than 4,400, is particularly worrying, with only one in four in a shelter appropriate for their age.
Some 500 children are housed with unrelated adults in a large warehouse tent in Moria. On Samos, more than a dozen unaccompanied girls take turns to sleep in a small container, while other children are forced to sleep on container roofs.
Given the extremely risky and potentially abusive conditions faced by unaccompanied children, UNHCR appeals to European States to open up places for their relocation as a matter of priority and speed up transfers for children eligible to join family members.
UNHCR continues to work with the Greek authorities to build the capacity needed to meet the challenges. We manage over 25,000 apartment places for some of the most vulnerable asylum-seekers and refugees, under the EU-funded ESTIA scheme. Some 75,000 people receive monthly cash assistance under the same programme.
UNHCR is prepared, with the continuous support of the EU and other donors, to expand its support through a cash for shelter scheme which would allow authorized asylum-seekers to move from the islands and establish themselves on the mainland.
Greece has received the majority of arrivals across the Mediterranean region this year, some 45,600 of 77,400 – more than Spain, Italy, Malta, and Cyprus combined. http://bit.ly/2o0gJcA
Visit the related web page
View more stories|