UA Researchers To Study Effects Of Where Refugees End Up

Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 3:10pm
Updated: Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 8:44am

The United Nations Refugee Agency reported last year that more than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced around the world. That’s the highest figure in recorded history. And the rhetoric surrounding these refugees continues to become more and more contentious.

So, two University of Arizona researchers, Alex Braithwaite and Faten Ghosn, are launching a new study to learn what drives refugees’ decisions of where to go when they flee their home countries and what kind of effect refugees have on the counties where they end up.

They’re looking at the security risks involved in countries accepting refugees, but Braithwaite said that he suspects the prevailing narrative about refugees is probably wrong.

“We’re interested in exploring whether refugees are, themselves, the perpetrators of violence or other forms of instability, or, as I think is probably more likely, if they are the recipients or targets of violence,” Braithwaite said.

Most countries that receive a large number of refugees adjust, he said, which sometimes involves a decline in economic growth or people protesting in the streets.

“But, the reality is that there’s very little data that suggests that refugees cause meaningful long-term problems and almost no evidence that the refugees themselves are the agents of any of these problems,” Braithwaite said. “They’re not the ones engaging in violence.”

The research team will be going to Lebanon, which Braithwaite said has received about 1.5 million refugees, to spend some time in refugee communities and ask them about how they made the decision to leave, and where to go.

“In a global setting, really, we know what the push factors are. We know that people leave their home countries because of ongoing violence or the threat of persecution by their government,” he said. “What we know less about is how they make the decisions about where to go.”

Braithwaite said he expects there are two different groups of people who are leaving conflict zones.

Early in the Syrian conflict, there were individuals that had some wealth that were able to fly and could go straight to Western Europe or North America to try to seek asylum.

“But the vast majority are sort of forced into making a split-second decision to go locally,” Braithwaite said.

And, he said, the vast majority of refugees who flee their homes are never resettled, but end up staying in the country that they first flee to.

“The reality is absolutely that perhaps 90 percent of individuals that gain the designation of a refugee remain in that first country,” he said.

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