Julian Wucherpfennig awarded “Best Paper” by American Political Science Association

Conflict Processes Section honours research challenging public fears about refugees and terrorism.

Julian Wucherpfennig, Professor of International Affairs and Security at the Hertie School, and Sara Polo, Assistant Professor at the University of Essex, received the “Best Paper Award” from the Conflict Processes Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA), given at its annual meeting in Washington D.C. on 30 August. Their paper, “Trojan Horse, Copycat, or Scapegoat? Re-examining the Refugee-Terrorism Nexus”, explores whether there is a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in countries that host refugees.

Against the backdrop of recent public debates that have stoked fears of security risks from migrants and refugees, the researchers show there is no systematic link between refugee inflows and an upsurge in terrorism in host countries. In fact, they say, refugees themselves are more often subjects of attack than the other way around. Furthermore, policy responses that stir public alarm are not effective.

“Our findings challenge the claim that hosting refugees heightens the risk of “importing'' terrorist attacks against nationals of host countries, especially in developed countries,” the authors state. “By contrast, refugees themselves are particularly prone to becoming the targets of terrorist attacks driven by fear and revenge, especially when developed host states have previously suffered severe attacks, a pattern that is largely absent from the current debate. Dominant policy responses to the refugee crisis that raise fears and suspicions are therefore not only ill-suited, but potentially counterproductive.”

Wucherpfennig and Polo brought together a vast amount of data on refugee flows and global terrorism incidents, which they extended through coding to determine where attackers originated from and where attacks took place. They then combined these data, distinguishing between refugees from countries that host terrorists and those from countries that do not host terrorists.

“We saw that even when refugees came from countries that were home to terrorist organisations, this did not heighten the risk of attacks against citizens of those countries,” says Wucherpfenning. “Through quantitative analysis we have seen that there is no systemic effect. This is a causal effect and an extremely robust finding.”

The paper, which the authors originally presented at APSA’s 2018 meeting, is currently under review for publication. APSA is the largest international professional association of political scientists.

Read the full version of the paper here.

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