Attitudes towards refugees during humanitarian crises

Dear Colleagues,

According to UNHCR, since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, more than five million Ukrainians have left their country and another seven million are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine. A structural and sustainable approach is needed to guarantee that these people get the educational, social and livelihood support they need.

In the latest issue of the JDC Quarterly Digest, we start analyzing the elements that can be part of effective policy responses, based on lessons learned as identified by the research community.

Our first focus is on attitudes towards refugees. We have witnessed a remarkably generous response to the arrival of the Ukrainian refugees, both by civil society and the general populations and by the public sector. How can we maintain this sense of solidarity and goodwill also in the months to come, and can policies be introduced that sustain it? 

For this purpose, we look at the academic literature to: a) identify which socioeconomic characteristics of the refugees are typically associated with positive or negative attitudes towards them; and, b) suggest policy measures that can promote more inclusive and tolerant preferences. Three “i:s” emerge as crucial in shaping effective policies: 

  • Inform. Demystify and humanize the refugees by encouraging the sharing of life stories and informing about skills and experiences they bring.
  • Interact. Encourage direct contacts between refugees and their hosts, whether through industry associations, sport activities or communal action.
  • Include. Allow refugees to support themselves and contribute to society by giving them access to education, vocational training and the labor market.

In this month’s update of the Literature Review you will find 14 carefully curated and summarized (academic) articles on attitudes. JDC’s own Domenico Tabasso has written a succinct 10-pager on the topic, as part of our Quarterly Digest series.

Ensuring a continued accepting attitude vis-à-vis refugees is but one aspect of a wider policy package. Some other important lessons can be found in previous issues of our Digest. For example, education plays a pivotal role in the successful integration of refugees, and evidence indicates that inclusive education systems can benefit both refugees and host community children. Thinking about the long-term consequences of forced displacement, it is worth highlighting how in many cases, refugees are highly skilled and bring with them benefits in terms of education, productivity and innovation to the areas that receive them. 

The attention and the resources devoted to the dramatic events unfolding in Ukraine and their consequences in terms of refugee flows should not come at the expenses of those forcibly displaced in other parts of the world, of whom the vast majority is in low- or middle-income countries with very limited resources to offer support. These people are often among the most vulnerable in the world, and their living conditions have been made even more precarious by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. 

UNHCR and the World Bank, with support from the JDC, continue to monitor and analyze the socioeconomic conditions of those forcibly displaced during the pandemic, including through a series of High Frequency Phone Surveys (HFPS) conducted in multiple countries. Recently, new evidence has been made available for refugees and nationals in Chad– find here the first and second brief – and internally displaced people in Burkina Faso (and the general Burkinabe population) – find here the first and second brief.

Related, the UNHCR teamed up with Innovations for Poverty Action to study the impact of COVID-19 on displaced persons in Costa Rica and Mexico. For Costa Rica, the anonymized microdata from the surveys can be accessed from the UNHCR Microdata Library, and please find a summary of the most salient results in this brief and in this blog. This brief, meanwhile, presents the evidence from Mexico, whose microdata are also available online.

As the efforts in terms of data collection and analysis continue in several countries, World Bank and JDC staff are working towards a cross-country harmonization of the HFPS data. The results of this exercise will be made available shortly and will permit direct comparisons between displaced and host populations across more than ten countries.

As always, we welcome feedback and suggestions on the Newsletter, for future editions of the Quarterly Digest or papers to be included in the Literature Review Update. Please don’t hesitate to contact Domenico Tabasso ([email protected]), Zara Sarzin ([email protected]) or myself ([email protected]) directly.

Yours sincerely,

Björn Gillsäter

Head of the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement