Refugees Who Want To Settle In West Least Likely To Hold Extremist Views

Refugees who wish to settle in Western countries are less likely to have extreme political and religious views.

A study published in Psychological Science surveyed 1000 Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. 

The researchers found that the majority of refugees were more motivated to return home to Syria than to migrate to Western countries, but those who did want to move to the West were less likely to hold extremist views. 

“Refugees are often portrayed in Western countries as extremists who hold hostile beliefs that threaten the security of the nations to which they wish to relocate. Also popular are the concerns that refugees may threaten the cultural cohesion of the host societies,” Katarzyna Jasko, lead author of the study and a researcher with Jagiellonian University in Poland told Theravive. 

“Our findings are inconsistent with this image and rather they suggest that refugees who want to travel West hold in fact less extreme political and religious views and are more positive toward Western countries than those refugees who do not want to leave the region. Importantly, they are not only less extreme in relative terms, but their absolute levels of extremism were also low. These results suggest that concerns regarding the security threat posed by incoming refugees may be overblown and should be confronted with empirical evidence.” 

When the Syrian civil war began in 2011, many Syrians fled the country. By the conclusion of 2016, Syrians were the largest forcibly displaced population of people in the world, with more than 12 million Syrians displaced. 

The number of displaced Syrians currently is nearly 13.5 million. 

To understand the views and experiences of Syrian refugees, the researches spoke with 1000 Syrians who had fled their home country. 

The refugees were invited to participate by researchers who spoke Arabic or by nongovernmental organizations. 

The refugees were told that their responses wouldn’t be linked to them personally and their responses would not impact their immigration status. 

Survey questions were designed to measure how willing the refugees were to relocate to a Western country, and whether they had a strong desire to return to Syria. 

The survey also asked for their ideological and political views. 

To determine levels of extremism the researchers asked questions concerning willingness to sacrifice for one’s own religion, willingness to sacrifice for a political cause and views on Islamist ideology. 

“In contrast to past research on refugees, which focused predominantly on safety concerns as predictors of refugees’ migration intentions, in our study we focused on their social and political attitudes. We hoped to extend the literature on migration decisions by incorporating these ideological factors, which have not been tested before,” Jasko told Theravive.  

“One reason for the research was the gap in the literature and lack of empirical evidence on this topic. At the same time public opinion polls in Western countries showed that the majority of respondents feared refugees and perceived them as a security threat, a view that presumably impacted their willingness to accept refugees in their countries. We wanted to provide data that could address these unfounded concerns.”

The researchers found a relationship between migration intentions and ideological beliefs. Those who were interested in relocating to a Western country rejected extremism politically and religiously.

“Research shows that people prefer to distance themselves from those who do not share their norms and values and gravitate toward those with similar views and opinions,” Jasko explained.

“There was already some evidence that perceived ideological fit between one’s political beliefs and the political beliefs of the community was related to the desire to relocate. On the basis of this literature we expected that to the extent that refugees felt they were in control of their migration decisions their ideological views should be related to their migration intentions.”

The researchers found their results similar in three out of the four countries where refugees were surveyed.

Jasko says the results are important as they challenge many stereotypes held about refugees from the Middle East. She is hopeful the findings of the study might be used as an intervention to reduce hostility towards refugees who have settled in the west.

“Providing members of host communities with these results may increase positive attitudes toward integration of refugees or reduce their prejudice. Past research suggests that correcting inaccurate meta-perception about the outgroup might be effective way of reducing intergroup hostility. However, it would be important to test such intervention first.” 

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