New study challenges prejudice about migrants from war-torn countries

12 June 2013

Events such as the Boston Marathon bombings seem to confirm people’s suspicions that migrants from war-torn countries harbour hatred resulting from experiences of trauma. In a new study from Uppsala University, doctoral student Jonathan Hall finds that migrants may actually be more moderate than the local population after war.

It is a popular belief that migrants from war-torn countries harbor hatred as a result from their experiences. In reaction, migrants face increasing restrictions and pressures to culturally assimilate. However, such popular assumptions remain empirically untested. A new dissertation by Jonathan Hall doctoral student at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, challenges these claims using new data: two large-scale surveys conducted simultaneously in post-war Bosnia and Sweden as a settlement country.

Ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War (1992-95) generated a massive refugee crisis. Sweden’s choice to grant permanent residency to these refugees in 1993 resulted in a large and representative population of ex-Yugoslavs remaining settled in Sweden.

Contrary to the prevailing view, the findings suggest that under certain conditions migrants may actually be more moderate than the local population after war. Migration may offer an exit from difficult wartime and post-war conditions that sustain animosities after wars end. At the same time, migration may provide migrants with more resources for coping with war traumas and losses, resulting in less need to defend group identity as a way of coping with the conflict crisis.

Moreover, biculturalism rather than cultural assimilation is associated with more peaceful attitudes among migrants. At the same time, cultural separation appears entirely compatible with peaceful attitudes among migrants from war-torn countries, as those who nurture a separate but inclusive Yugoslav heritage culture in Sweden illustrate. Thus, upholding multiculturalism and the socioeconomic welfare of immigrants in the face of xenophobic reactions to traumatic events such as terrorism may promote moderation rather than encourage extremism among migrants, as some try to suggest.

“This has important implications for immigration and incorporation policies in settlement countries. Reducing resources for coping may encourage individuals to develop more conflictive attitudes related to homeland conflicts, while increasing coping resources may discourage it. The trend towards placing greater restrictions on immigrants, the encampment of refugees, policing of immigrant communities, racial profiling, and public demands for cultural assimilation in ‘liberal’ settlement countries is therefore troubling”, says Jonathan Hall.

Read the full dissertation: Migration and Perceptions of War: Simultaneous Surveys in Countries of Origin and Settlement.