Refugee Flows and Transnational Ethnic Linkages

Refugee Flows and Transnational Ethnic Linkages

Funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies, 2010-2012


Prof. Lars-Erik Cederman, ETH Zurich (project leader)
Prof. Simon Hug, Université de Genève
Alain Dubois, Université de Genève
Prof. Idean Salehyan, University of North Texas
Seraina Rüegger, ETH Zurich
Heidrun Bohnet, Université de Genève


One of the most significant external effects of civil war is massive population dislocations and refugee flows across national boundaries. Those fleeing conflict and instability are rightly viewed as victims of persecution and war, requiring humanitarian aid, relief supplies and host-country protection. Yet, it would be incorrect to simply depict refugees as passive victims - rather than important actors - in the conflict dynamic. Several scholars have noted that refugee communities are often associated with security risks for the host and home countries, particularly if they are mobilized by militant groups. Others have found that refugee flows are one mechanism by which conflicts spread across regions.

These effects remain poorly understood, however. One of the most plausible links between cross-border refugee flows and the spread of conflict has to do with the impact of migration flows on the ethnic balance of host countries. Cultural similarity may facilitate refugee integration, but refugee flows can also foster tensions among ethnic groups. However, there is a lack of systematic data on the ethnic composition of refugee flows, making it difficult to test these claims. Existing datasets, available from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, list refugee host and asylum countries, along with aggregate refugee counts. To improve research on the migration-conflict connection, the research team created a new dataset including information on refugee ethnicity, religion and language use. This data was used to assess the effects of refugee flows taking into account ethnical linkages.


Rüegger, Seraina, and Heidrun Bohnet.
Conflict Management and Peace Science Forthcoming.