More than 60 million people were forced from their homes in 2015, according to United Nations estimates. This represents the worst year for forced movement since World War II. One in every 122 humans on the planet is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Whose responsibility is it to provide aid and sanctuary in the face of this calamity?
Sanctuary is, by definition, the provision of a safe space in the face of a threat—most generally, for irregular migrants, the threat of detention, deportation, or incarceration. This is a sovereign threat—one defined by the legal codes, judicial systems, and governmental practices of nation-states. The tensions between sovereign threats and providing spaces of sanctuary open up a complex terrain of profoundly important questions about legal and human rights, ethics, the role of religion and faith in activist engagement, and contemporary belonging and identity.
Beyond the walls of a church, to a University campus, to a city, to a state, to – eventually – the digital space, spaces of sanctuary are being re-defined and re-conceptualized. The digital environment can be sanctuary in that it can be a tool to amplify non-mainstream and minority voices, and show resistance to an unwelcoming political context. Digital technologies can support assisting undocumented migrants and other vulnerable populations by providing them with relevant and timely information. However, the digital environment also exposes people everyday to data privacy risks. Will digital technologies hinder or reinvigorate sanctuary spaces? What does the concept of a digital sanctuary look like?