This article explores violence perpetrated against refugees, which the authors contend is a more common than violence caused by refugees. They argue that host states are more likely to violate the physical integrity of refugee populations in the wake of terrorist attacks. Governments are pressured to respond to security crises but prefer to take actions without jeopardizing public support. In this context, refugee groups can be strategically attractive targets of repression because they lack electoral power and the public is often supportive of government crackdown against foreigners in times of security crises. The authors conjecture that repression of refugees may not be a security maximizing strategy as long as leaders perceive it as politically rewarding, at least in the short run. Given that leaders have stronger incentives to respond to voters’ demands quickly in democracies, the authors also investigate whether the effect of terror attacks on violence against refugees is stronger in democratic host states. Using a global dataset on anti-refugee violence perpetrated by states between 1996 and 2015, the authors show that:
- Terrorist attacks in host states lead to an increase in the prevalence of violence against refugees by state agents.
- A scapegoating mechanism may be at work. The propensity of states to repress refugees when they are reportedly tied to terrorism is not significantly higher than when there are no reported ties between refugees and terrorist attacks.
- Host states are more likely to violate the physical integrity of refugee populations in the wake of terrorist attacks as the level of democracy increases. The marginal effect of transnational terrorism on violence against refugees is lower in countries that are less democratic, and significantly higher in countries that are more democratic.