Forced migration: evidence and policy challenges

Simon Quinn and Isabel Ruiz

Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 38, Issue 3 (2022), Pages 403–413 


This article presents a summary of Volume 38, Issue 3 of the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, which focuses on forced migration. The issue explores: (1) what are the mechanisms by which refugees should be managed, and what frameworks should be used for supporting them? (2) how can policy support the integration of refugees into host economies and what are the likely consequences of this integration? (3) how are host communities likely to respond to the influx of refugees, and how can policy help to smooth this transition? And (4) what role can policy play to encourage resilience among refugees and IDPs and support their return? 

Main messages: 

  • Humanitarian responses refugee crises should be grounded in pre-positioned—anticipatory—financing and policy, and should take a long-term approach to the management of crises.  
  • The existing refugee resettlement system is inefficient; there are very few resettlement opportunities, and those who are resettled often end up in locations where their prospects are poor. Market design methods can substantially improve resettlement outcomes by accounting for refugees’ preferences, communities’ priorities, and economic outcomes. 
  • Refugees have a positive economic impact on host countries by contributing to government revenues and to the overall economy, as demonstrated by an analysis of the contribution of refugees resettled in the United States. 
  • Refugees are well placed to develop new opportunities for trade and cross-border investment, as demonstrated by increased trade between Vietnam and US states hosting Vietnamese refugees. Refugee diasporas also contribute to reconstruction and economic development of their countries of origin through remittances and foreign direct investment (FDI). 
  • Importance of creating incentives both at the national and local levels in order to promote compliance with refugee norms in relation to the right to work. De jure right to work is associated with payoffs at the ‘national’ level (being a signatory of the 1951 Convention) whereas de facto rights are associated with payoffs at the ‘local’ level (degree of decentralization).  
  • Importance of assessing the potential trade-offs and unintended consequences of changes in policies. Dispersal policies distribute the burden of hosting refugees but the initial place of settlement can have impacts on the labour market performance of refugees. Employment support policies are desirable but may crowd out enrolment in language and integration programmes which are important for long-term integration outcomes. And benefit reductions may increase employment, but may also lead to higher criminal activity. 
  • Policies aimed at promoting social cohesion towards refugees can usefully be informed by a better understanding of who is most likely to oppose refugees. 
  • In host countries such as Turkey, refugees have a negative impact on the quality of work (informality) and wages of low-skilled workers. However, tax revenues and profits per worker also increase, suggesting the losses for low-skill workers can potentially be reversed through tax redistribution. 
  • Importance of recognizing the protracted nature of many forced displacement situations, requiring policies geared towards refugee integration and long-term development goals.  
  • Need for better data collection, including longitudinal data, and the need for good quality impact evaluations to best inform policymakers and other stakeholders. 
  • Approaches to return and reintegration should consider the risk that returns of refugees precipitate new societal divisions between groups based on their location during the conflict (stayees versus returnees).  

Overall, the papers highlight the need for systematic and long-term policy approaches. The papers also underline the importance of quantifying the impacts of forced migration and bridging a gap in how this evidence is communicated and understood in the broader community.