Civilians who have fled violent conflict and settled in neighboring countries are integral to ending or prolonging conflict. Contingent on their attitudes, they can either back peaceful settlements or support warring groups and continued fighting. Attitudes toward peaceful settlement are expected to be especially inflexible for refugees who have been exposed to violence, which has been shown to produce a strong desire for revenge in diverse contexts. In a survey of 1,120 Syrian refugees in Turkey conducted in 2016, the authors use experiments to examine refugee attitudes towards two critical phases of conflict termination—a ceasefire and a peace agreement. They examine the rigidity/flexibility of refugees’ attitudes to see if subtle changes in how wartime losses are framed or in who endorses a peace process can shift willingness to compromise with the incumbent Assad regime. The results show that:
- Refugees are far more likely to agree to a ceasefire proposed by a civilian as opposed to one proposed by armed actors from either the Syrian government or the opposition. Specifically, refugee civilians in the sample are 11 to 14 percentage points more likely to agree with a ceasefire and peace process arrangement when proposed by Syrian civilians as opposed to Syrian military commanders from either the regime or the opposition, suggesting a special signaling value of civilian proposers of peace.
- Simply describing the refugee community’s wartime experience as suffering rather than sacrifice substantially increases willingness to compromise with the regime to bring about peace, by 14 to 18 percentage points. This holds whether the suffering is described within the family or the community, and it holds or is magnified among those who come from neighborhoods that have experienced direct violence.
Even among a highly pro-opposition population that has experienced severe violence, willingness to settle and make peace are remarkably flexible and dependent on: (a) the identity of actors who propose a peace agreement; and (b) the framing of wartime experience with violence.