A Comparative Analysis: How Perception of Public Opinion and Attitudes Shapes Refugee Integration

McNeil 367
February 14, 2020 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Immigration
University of Pennsylvania

Considering the global rise of xenophobic, populist and anti-immigrant public opinion and attitudes, how can host communities and refugee communities live together peacefully? How does the perception of nativist political attitudes impact the prospects of integration of refugees? I address these questions with a comparative design: I focus on Syrian refugees displaced since 2011 and I compare their integration experiences in Canada, Germany, Turkey, and the United States. I seek to understand the mechanisms that explain the possibilities and pathways of refugee integration. Drawing on 130 in-depth interviews (98 with refugees and 32 with key informants), I argue that a successful integration and a feeling of belonging are more likely if refugees perceive being welcome and accepted by the native-born population, especially in a multicultural society. When refugees perceive negative attitudes, they become tired and angry; do not want to explain and justify themselves anymore; and disengage. This leads to a lack of belonging like in the U.S. and Germany. In unusual conditions, despite the lack of proper economic rights and legal status, some refugees may want to stay in a country when they perceive some welcoming attitudes like in Turkey. Even if there are anti-refugee attitudes among locals, it is actually possible to influence the public opinion with help of government policies, education programs, and media support like in Canada. These perceptions of public opinion and attitudes (in other words, the cultural/political dimension) interact with the legal and socio-economic dimensions of integration, and there are variations in integration experiences by gender, age, marital status, and socio-economic capital.