Today’s already record-high numbers of forcefully displaced peoples are expected to rise exponentially to over 1 billion by 2040. At the same time, new sets of digital technologies (from Artificial Intelligence, data collection, predictive analytics, surveillance capabilities, to biometric and digital identities) are growing rapidly and are becoming broadly available to perform a variety of functions, including foresight, strategic direction, recommendations and decision-making. The confluence of these two trends have started opening up a new ‘digital humanitarian space’.For the UNHCR, the world’s lead organization for the protection of refugees, this rapidly evolving ‘digital humanitarian space’ offers new opportunities, challenges, risks, and dilemmas all at once.

This event, open to the public, explores how these new sets of technologies are transforming not just the world within which UNHCR is currently operating but UNHCR’s own work. Our guest is Mr Volker Schimmel, the Director of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ‘Global Data Service’. The format is a moderated discussion followed by Q&A (and based on Chatham House rules).

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Volker Schimmel started his international career 20 year ago when he joined the UN refugee agency in Rwanda. He has since worked for multiple UN organizations (UNHCR, UN OCHA, UNRWA) on forced displacement and worked in multiple countries in Africa and the Middle East. The timespan of his career has coincided with the evolution if not explosion in digital capabilities, which have impacted the humanitarian sector dramatically. He has spearheaded this innovation for UNHCR in areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), data collection and analytics, biometrics and digital (refugee) identity, and predictive analytics, and therefore has a unique perspective on and insights into what we would call ‘digital humanitarianism’. Based on his pioneering roles, he was subsequently appointed Deputy Head of the UNHCR-World Bank Joint Data Center. And in 2020, he became the Director of UNHCR’s Global Data Service [], which puts him at the core of digital transformation of the UN’s global operations.


Dr Sebastian Kaempf is a Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies in the School of Political Science and International Studies at The University of Queensland. Dr Kaempf’s expertise lies at the intersection between International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies, where he specializes in the areas of international security, ethics and the laws of war, and information technology relating to global politics and violent conflict. He is the author of ‘Saving Soldiers or Civilians? Casualty-aversion versus Civilian protection in asymmetric conflicts’ (Cambridge University Press 2018). He is the co-producer of the film documentary ‘Theaters of War: How the CIA and Pentagon took Hollywood’ and co-host of the podcast ‘HigherEd Heroes’.

Image credit: SomYuZu via Adobe Stock

About Visit from Volker Schimmel 17th – 28th September 2023

Led by Dr Seb Kaempf (Polsis), Digital Cultures & Societies is teaming up with Volker Schimmel, the Director of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ‘Global Data Service’, to explore the potential for future industry collaboration with UQ researchers (academics, post-docs, and HDRs).

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308 Queen Street Brisbane City, QLD 4000
Room 0M08, (City campus)