Attitudes and Policies toward Refugees: Evidence from Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Cevat Giray Aksoy, Thomas Ginn, Franco Malpassi

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, No. 9985 (2022)


This paper examines the effect of refugee arrivals on attitudes toward immigrants in a global sample of low- and middle-income countries. The authors also explore whether these effects vary across camp and non-camp settings or across situations with progressive and restrictive labor market policies.

To estimate the causal effect of refugee arrivals on host communities’ attitudes towards immigrants and income, the authors: (a) compare attitudes and income at the regional level four years before and four years after large, sudden arrivals of refugees; (b) compare regions that experienced large increases in refugees with those that did not within the same country; and (c) compare effects across different hosting situations (i.e., by employment and encampment policies).

The analysis is based on data covering the period from 2005 to 2018, including: (i) data on attitudes and income from Gallup World Poll (GWP) and 12 additional public opinion surveys; (ii) refugee populations at the sub-national level from UNHCR; and (iii) data on policies on camps from UNHCR and on de jure access to the labor market from Blair et al. (2021).

Preliminary findings:

  • Across all regions, large and sudden arrivals of refugees do not have a negative effect on average attitudes towards immigrants or income. On average, there is little effect in the periods immediately following a large wave of refugees across affected regions in lower- and middle-income countries.
  • There is little evidence that attitudes towards immigrants or income vary across camp and non-camp settings or across environments with progressive and restrictive labor market policies.

The authors conclude that, “while restrictive policies are often justified to benefit host communities, there is little evidence to support the argument.”