Research challenging alleged refugee-terrorism linkages forthcoming in The Journal of Politics

Paper by Julian Wucherpfennig and Sara Polo won APSA Best Paper award in Conflict Processes.

Research by Julian Wucherpfennig, Professor of International Affairs and Security at the Hertie School, and Sara Polo, Assistant Professor at the University of Essex, challenging public fears about links between refugees and terrorism is forthcoming in The Journal of Politics. 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. 

As a working paper prior to its publication, the article received the “Best Paper Award” from the Conflict Processes Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 2019. APSA is the largest international professional association of political scientists.

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 show, refugees themselves are more likely to become the targets of attacks, instead of the other way around. Thus, policy responses that stir public alarm and suspicion towards refugees may actually lead to more terrorism, not less.

“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 rigorous quantitative analysis we have seen that there is no systemic effect. This is a causal effect and an extremely robust finding.”

Read the full paper here.

The Hertie School is not responsible for any content linked or referred to from these pages.
Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.