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Questioning Refugee Camps as Sources of Conflict

Andrew Shaver
Yang-Yang Zhou
September 24, 2015

A substantial body of research in political science finds that refugees increase the
likelihood of conflict within the states that host them. This literature concludes that
refugees do so by exacerbating ethnic tensions, intensifying economic competition, and
expanding insurgent networks. Related research finds that refugees diffuse regional
civil wars. Using precisely geo-referenced data on camps of refugees and internally
displaced persons released by the United Nations for this study, we find no support for
claims that refugees degrade the security conditions in their host communities. Instead,
our analysis suggests that areas of countries that receive refugees tend to become more
stable following their arrival. Given current and unprecedented numbers of forcibly
displaced persons around the world, our findings should assuage concerns that hosting
refugees will generate instability.

We thank Lamis Abdelaaty, Aylin Aydin, Alexander Betts, Alexander Bollfrass, David Carter, Benjamin
Fifield, Kosuke Imai, Robert Keohane, Kabir Khanna, Jacob Shapiro, Yao-Yuan Yeh and participants of the
American Political Science Associations 2015 Annual Meeting and the International Studies Associations
2014 Annual Convention for comments on this manuscript. We also thank Tsering Wangyal Shawa for
assisting with the processing of geospatially identified data. We are grateful to the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees for providing the data used in this study as well as to Miguel Centeno and the
Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies for financial support. Zhou acknowledges support
from the National Science Foundation (SES1148900). Finally, we wish to thank Idean Salehyan and Kristian
Gleditsch for making their data from their 2006 article available for replication. All errors are ours.

Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University.


Department of Politics, Princeton University. E-mail:

The global community is presently experiencing unprecedented levels of forced migration.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 59.5 million
individuals around the world have been displaced involuntarily, the highest level on record.
Such widespread displacement is primarily the consequence of ongoing sub-state conflicts,
including those in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and Afghanistan. To place this figure in perspective,
one out of every 122 humans is now either a refugee, an internally displaced person, or an
asylum seeker. Were this nation of the displaced a country, it would rank as the 24th
largest in the world, approximating the United Kingdom in population (UNHCR, 2014b).
Among these individuals, 18.1 million are refugees displaced persons who have fled their
home countries.12
From the string of fatal attempted boat crossings in the Mediterranean and Southeast
Asian seas to the construction of makeshift refugee camps throughout Italy and Greece to
extensive efforts for migrants and refugees to make their way across the European continent
amidst rising anti-migrant political activity, recent international headlines make clear that
the current refugee crisis is not just a priority for aid agencies and a small number of affected
countries but for governments and their citizens worldwide.
Following these refugees is the assumption that they impact the security of their host
communities. Is that true? And if so, how? In this paper, we argue that, on the whole,

As opposed to an internally displaced person who remains within her or his country of origin, a refugee
is someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality,
membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of her or his nationality,
and is unable, or due to such fear, unwilling to avail him- or herself of the protection of that country. Article
1, The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
See Tables 2, 3 and Figures 7, 8, and 9 for additional summary statistics regarding global displacement

refugees do not increase the likelihood of conflict in either the countries that receive them
or within the more limited regions of states in which they settle. Instead, we find that
areas which host refugees tend to experience more stability over time, which may be due to
the influx of international humanitarian organizations like the UNHCR whose presence may
bolster security.
Our findings speak to a growing body of political science research seeking to identify
migrants, and especially, refugees effects on host communities. Starting with Zolberg et al.
(1989), this literature emphasizes cases of violent conflict that are attributed to militarized
refugees such as the Banyarwanda refugees in Eastern Congo in the 1960s and South African
refugees during Apartheid (e.g. Lischer, 2005; Muggah, 2006). Generalizing these cases into a
global phenomenon, scholars such as Loescher (1992); Weiner (1992); Salehyan and Gleditsch
(2006); Salehyan (2007, 2009); Choi and Salehyan (2013) argue that refugees diffuse civil war
and other forms of sub-state violence across international borders. They suggest that refugees
exacerbate ethnic tensions, intensify economic competition with locals, and expand insurgent
social networks by transporting weapons and using camps to recruit and harbor combatants.
Our results challenge this grim link between refugees and conflict diffusion. Using original
province-year data that combines precise georeferenced panel data on displacement camps
(both for refugees and internally displaced persons), terrain, ethnicity and economic development indicators for the period 1989 to 2008, we carry out a series of empirical tests at
both country and subnational levels. We find that refugee communities are not associated
with increased conflict likelihood in the areas in which they settle. We further find that
refugee communities do not appear to facilitate regional conflict diffusion. Finally, through
a difference-in-differences approach, we compare the likelihood of conflict onset between sub2

national provinces with camps and those without camps during the same timeframe. In this
last test, we find evidence that those areas of countries that receive refugees tend to experience increased stability following their arrival. While previous research identifying refugees
as sources of conflict generally conclude by recommending that host governments and the international community work towards securing refugee environments, our last finding suggests
that they may already be doing so successfully.
Host countries will continue to confront the question of whether to allow refugee integration within their communities, and the intuitive and widespread belief in the destabilizing
effects of refugees is likely to influence policymaking, as recent statements by policymakers
make clear. The White House, for instance, has expressed unease about the destabilizing impact that significant flows of [Syrian] refugees could have on the politics of an already pretty
volatile region (House, 2014). The UNHCR has similarly warned that failing to provide
enough humanitarian support for Syrian refugees [could have] dramatic consequences for...
the stability of the entire region, including a serious security threat to Lebanon (UNHCR,
2014a). For their part, media outlets also give voice to the concern that individuals seeking
refuge across international borders threaten host countries with violence (e.g. Herszenhorn,
2015; Erlanger and Smale, 2015; Shafy, 2013; Shinkman, 2013; Harrigan and Easen, 2001).

Re-theorizing the Link between Refugees and Conflict Diffusion

A number of scholars have sought to identify possible security consequences of refugee

flows in host countries. This literature began with general descriptions moving to empirical
analysis mostly based on comparative case studies. Three cases in particular prominently
featured in these studies; those of: 1. refugee flows from Liberias two civil wars from 1989

through 2003, which is generally believed to have destabilized the neighboring countries of
Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast; 2. forced migration leading to conflict in several
Balkan states throughout the 1990s; and 3. refugees from the Rwandan genocide in 1994 who
were later involved in conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Whitaker, 2003).
Generalizing from these cases, recent work in political science using cross-national panel
data argues that refugees role in spreading conflict is a global phenomenon. Nevertheless,
other scholars contend that in general refugees are overwhelmingly civilian noncombatants
and not sources of conflict (Matthews, 1972; Whitaker, 2003; Onoma, 2013). In this piece,
we present evidence that is consistent with the latter.
First, the concept of the refugee-warrior or militarized refugee is attributable to Zolberg et al. (1989). These authors caution that refugees are not only victims escaping persecution but also political activists who mobilize while in the host country. They describe
refugee camps as potential military bases for refugee-warriors to continue opposition activities. Next, in a sweeping effort to apply a security/stability framework to international
migration, Weiner (1992) lists a number of situations in which refugees may be seen as a
security threat by host countries. In condemning the policies of their origin country, refugees
may attempt to influence host country policies, a state of affairs made particularly volatile
if these refugees are armed. In the host country, refugees may participate in terrorist attacks, ally with the domestic opposition, or engage in cross-border arms trafficking. Refugees
may also destabilize the host country indirectly, by imposing a heavy economic burden and
straining the host countrys social services, infrastructure, and ecological resources.
Similarly, Loescher (1992) considers the strategic causes, consequences, and responses to
refugee movements. He points to refugee influxes shifting the ethnic composition of host

countries, with especially detrimental consequences for societies with a precarious ethnic
balance or pre-existing ethnic rivalries. If they affect economic conditions, by driving wages
down and housing costs up, refugees may also foment resentment among local host populations. Host country policies on naturalization may cause refugees to feel alienated and
promote militancy rather than integration. These effects are particularly threatening when
the host countrys central government is weak or when its legitimacy is in doubt.
Using comparative case studies, Whitaker (2003) examines the empirical link between
refugee flows and the cross-border spread of conflict. In particular, she asks why the 1994
influx of Rwandan refugees sparked conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but not
in Tanzania. She concludes that refugee movements are more likely to produce conflict when
the host countrys regime lacks political legitimacy, when ethnic difference is politicized in
the host country, and when host country leaders use refugees to ensure their political survival.
Lischer (2005) is also concerned with uncovering the conditions under which refugees
spread civil war. With a series of case studies on Afghan, Bosnian, and Rwandan refugees, she
argues that the original cause of flight affects refugees political and military organization and
their propensity for cross-border violence. Conflict is more likely when refugees constitute
a state in exile, which is a group with a strong and politicized leadership structure that
challenge[s] the legitimacy of the sending state government (25). She notes that the host
states willingness and ability to contain refugee militancy plays a key role, as do third-party
Turning away from militarized refugees, Onoma (2013) seeks to explain when civilian
refugees become victims of violence by the host population. By comparing instances of
violence and non-violence against refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone in Guinea with

Figure 1: Map of Refugee Camps and Civil Conflict Onset Propensity

Rwandan refugees in the DRC and Uganda, he finds that rare cases of local, host populations
attacking refugees occurs only when the state is experiencing political instability and actively
encourages these attacks.
Thus, are cases in which the presence of refugee communities produces conflict relatively
common as Zolberg et al. (1989) and Weiner (1992) suggest or only under exceptional circumstances as scholars like Onoma (2013) point out? Figure 1 depicts the geographic distribution
of refugee camps during the period of 1989 through 2008. Camps are evidently concentrated
near conflict areas. While there is no doubt that refugees and conflict are highly correlated
as conflict is currently the greatest generator of forced migration, whether refugees in turn
cause conflict in host countries is unclear.

Motivating this question, research in security studies has found that countries whose
neighbors are experiencing civil conflict are themselves significantly more likely to experience
civil conflict, evidence that incidents of sub-state conflict are not independent events with
purely domestic causes (Gleditsch, 2002; Hegre and Sambanis, 2006; Gleditsch, 2007). In
addition to explanations such as cross-country ethnic solidarity, diffusion of revolutionary
ideology, and negative economic externalities (Sambanis, 2002; Fearon and Laitin, 2003;
Marshall and Gurr, 2003; Beissinger, 2007; Gleditsch, 2007), several political scientists using
cross-national panel data argue that refugees increase the likelihood of conflict and even
terrorism in their receiving countries (Salehyan and Gleditsch, 2006; Salehyan, 2007, 2009;
Choi and Salehyan, 2013).
Most notably, Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) find that larger numbers of refugees from
neighboring counties increase the likelihood of civil war onset in the host country.3 To
explain this finding, they propose four non-exclusive mechanisms by which refugees generate
civil war in host countries. First, because refugee flows often incorporate a cross-border
transfer of combatants, weapons, and ideas, the refugees may come into conflict with the host
government. Second, refugees may provide mobilization resources to domestic opposition
groups with whom they share an ethnic or ideological affinity. Third, refugee populations
may change the ethnic balance in the host country, with this demographic shift provoking
conflict. Finally, competition between refugees and locals for jobs, housing, and resources
can generate violence. Although their data and research design cannot shed light on which
(if any) of their hypothesized mechanisms is behind this relationship.
Note, however, that Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) do not test the general hypothesis that refugees
communities increase the likelihood of conflict. Instead, they test the claim that refugees from neighboring
countries engaged in conflict increase the likelihood of civil conflict in countries to which they flee.

In response, we contend that the emergent evidence from the present body of literature
suffers to a large degree from selection on the dependent variable. Selecting cases of conflict
outbreak to identify its apparent sources can be an informative explanatory exercise. Yet,
valid inferences tying the such sources to the outcome of interest cannot be made through
this process alone (King et al., 1994; Ashworth et al., 2008). Considering cases of refugee
settlement across regions of the world where conflict has and has not broken out reveals
certain characteristics about such communities.
Since the vast majority of refugees are civilians who have not engaged in combat, either
because they are mostly incapable of and/or disinterested in fighting, we argue that refugees
are not sources of new civil conflict; in fact, their presence can even bring increased stability.
Consider, for instance, that more than half of refugees in the world are children. Given
the demographic makeup of refugee communities globally, the refugee-warrior appears more
an exceptional rather than a representative figure (UNHCR, 2014b). Additionally, (Hazlett,
2013) finds that with Darfurian refugees in Chad, exposure to violence is associated with warweariness and pro-peace attitudes rather than support for retribution and continued violence.
Furthermore, refugee camps are often heavily controlled by host states, the UNHCR, and
other humanitarian agencies. Even weak states have the ability to administer and run refugee
camps by deploying a mix of civilian officials such as police and gendarmes as well as military
personnel (Onoma, 2013). Such conditions would render areas with refugees relatively more
secure (e.g. Malkki, 1995; Jacobsen, 2005), which is what we find in this paper. For these
and related reasons, we theorize that although local, host populations may likely to blame
refugees for instability, it is unlikely that refugees are indeed responsible.

Retesting Refugees as a Security Threat

Using original data that combines refugee locations and subnational incidence of sub-

state conflict as well as recently developed techniques in causal mediation, we test whether
the presence of refugee communities in host countries increases the likelihood of conflict in
the provinces in which they settle. We approach this question by testing the following three
H1. Refugees increase the likelihood of civil conflict onset in the provinces where they settle.
H2. Refugees are a mechanism by which civil conflict diffuses regionally.
H3. Provinces that experience a new refugee influx are less secure in subsequent years
compared to non-hosting counterpart provinces.
We begin by estimating the statistical likelihood of conflict onset in areas in which refugee
communities are likely to settle. Second, we test the more narrow claim that civil war diffuses
regionally (at least in part) through refugees as a mechanism. For reasons that are articulated
below, we find that results produced by Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) may be an artifact
of their testing strategy and not a reflection of the relationship they seek to test.
These two tests subject the claim that refugees spread conflict to varying levels of scrutiny.
The first test assesses whether refugee communities are, on average, associated with deteriorating security conditions in and around the areas in which they seek sanctuary. This test is
more strict in that sense that, although the presence of particular refugees communities may
have a destabilizing effect on proximate population centers, it asks whether the presence of
refugee communities, irrespective of source and makeup, tend to increase conflict likelihood.
One concern with the existing body of literature is that the cases that feature prominently in

qualitative casework (referenced in the preceding section) may represent exceptional rather
than typical cases.
The second test assesses whether refugee communities originating in countries experiencing civil conflict are associated with conflict onset in the areas of neighboring countries
to which members of such communities flee. For instance, if the first mechanism proposed
by Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) is correct, a relationship might emerge under the second
test but not the first: cross-border flows of combatants and weapons may be associated with
conflict refugees but are unlikely correlated with migrants from areas afflicted by natural
disaster or economic depression.
Lastly, we employ a difference-in-differences analysis comparing refugee hosting provinces
to their non-hosting counterparts (as controls) to show that the likelihood of civil conflict is
not only lower in hosting provinces, it actually decreases in the years subsequent to a new
refugee influx.


Data combining refugee locations and conflict onset

We combine georeferenced data on the precise location of all displacement camps with

subnational data on conflict onset, terrain, economic development indicators, and distances
from refugees to borders and country capitals for the period spanning 1989 to 2008
Independent variable: refugee locations. Drawing from a unique georeferenced
dataset of the universe of displacement locations provided by the UNHCR for the purposes
of this study, we construct an indicator variable for the existence of at least one refugee camp
within any given province-year unit.
Outcome variable: conflict onset. From the Uppsala/PRIO Conflict Data Set, we

code all cases of conflict onset (given by at least 25 battlefield deaths) at the province level. A
1 is assigned for the first year of a conflict; otherwise, a value of 0 is assigned. Subsequent
ongoing years of the same conflict are dropped from the estimation sample.
Next, we recognize and include a set of potentially significant variables, whose absence
from previous statistical tests may have introduced bias. Three primary sources of potential
bias include internally displaced peoples, terrain, and development levels.
Internally displaced persons. Descriptive statistics generated with data on displacement locales provided by the UNHCR show that many regions with large numbers of refugee
locales also host IDPs, perhaps because displaced populations tend to seek shelter in locales
where displacement infrastructure has already been established (see Figure 9) (UNHCR,
2013). Since the internal migration of peoples could also increase civil war likelihood by
affecting economic competition or within-country ethnic tensions, the presence of IDPs may
be a crucial variable omitted in previous research.
Terrain. Existing research supports the premise that insurgent violence is more likely to
emerge or persist in environments in which terrain encumbers more powerful counterinsurgents. [I]nsurgents are weak relative to the governments they [fight]... to survive, the rebels
must be able to hide from government forces (Fearon and Laitin (2003): 80). Countries
with more mountainous terrain, for instance, are more likely to experience civil war onset
(Fearon and Laitin, 2003); forest cover increases probability [that] wars will continue; and
[c]ivil wars in mountainous states have a significantly... increased probability of ending
with rebel victory or truce (Collier et al. (2004): 266). If areas with refugee settlement
correspond with regions of the world dense in terrain types favorable to insurgency, then
results generated by Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) may be biased.

Economic development. Levels of economic development are also associated with

refugee migration. First, refugee populations are most prevalent in countries with low levels
of development. Although no standard procedure exists for the site selection of refugee
camps, local citizens and governments are generally unwilling to negotiate with refugees over
resource-rich land. On the other hand, refugees and host governments take into consideration
the availability of food, water, and social services. Once camps are established, an influx
of humanitarian organizations and aid also changes the development levels of the local area
(Bariagaber, 2006; Jacobsen, 1996). Lastly, refugees, especially those in inhospitable camp
conditions, may also spread infectious diseases to host areas, which impacts local health and
mortality outcomes (Ghobarah et al., 2003, 2004).
Development levels are similarly correlated with conflict likelihood (Collier, 2003). Fearon
and Laitin (2003) theorize that such relationship is, at least in part, a function of state capacity: the most important determinants of the prospects of an insurgency are most likely
the police and military capabilities of the government, and the reach of government institutions into rural areas (80). When evaluating the relationship between refugee presence and
violence over areas that vary in their development, these correlations must be controlled for
to avoid introducing possible bias.
Distance from refugee location to the host countrys border and capital. In a
subnational analysis, refugee location within a given country becomes a potentially important
omitted variable. Fearon and Laitin (2003), for instance, theorize that the likelihood of
insurgency and civil war increases with distance from the centers of state power... and
is more likely where rebels have access to foreign, cross-border sanctuaries (80). As is
evident from Figure 1, the large majority of refugee camps that have existed over the past

several decades are located in proximity to foreign borders. To ensure that refugee location
is not spuriously correlated with conflict, we augment St,i by including measures of each
units average distance to nearest contiguous foreign country and distance to the capital city
(Tollefsen et al., 2012).


H1: Do refugees increase the likelihood of civil conflict where they settle?
If communities of refugees drive conflict as the literature suggests by altering the ethnic

balance within the areas in which they take refuge or by increasing competition for resources
in such areas, conflict should be observed with greater likelihood in areas proximate to refugee
settlements. In the absence of spatially disaggregate data, previous analysis has necessarily
adopted the country-year as the unit of statistical analysis (Salehyan and Gleditsch, 2006).
However, measuring micro-relationships at this level may result in inconclusive findings even
where relationships between variables exist due to insufficient statistical power. Worse,
coefficients generated this way may suffer from aggregation bias, a possibility when inferences
are drawn from the broader population to which the unit of interest belongs (King, 1997).
We, therefore, adopt the first-order internal administrative boundary (province, district,
governorate, etc., hereafter denoted as province) as the spatial unit of analysis. Violence
observed in provinces without refugees but caused by refugees would result only if refugee
mediated conflict travels over significant distances. Hypotheses of ethnic conflict and local
economic competition provide no theoretical basis to expect such pattern.
Under the causal inference framework, it is critical that each unit be potentially exposable to the cause (Holland (1986): 946); thus, a treatment group of areas countries or
provinces with refugees requires a control group of areas that did not but potentially could

have refugees as the proper counterfactual (Rubin, 1974). To improve the causal validity
of our results, we avoid comparing unlike units by subsetting our data. We only include
provinces within countries from regions in which there exist some refugee presence during
our study period.4
We use Bayesian logistic regression to generate an association between annual incidence
of sub-state conflict and the existence of refugee camps for comparable provinces over the
past two decades for which camp, conflict, and covariate data is available.
Specifically, the following equation is tested:

P (Yt,i = 1|Mt,i , Nt,i , St,i , Ct,k ) = logit1 (i + Mt,i + Nt,i + St,i + Ct,k + %k )


where t, i, and k denote time periods 1, ..., m, provinces 1, ..., n, and countries 1, ..., p,
= Mt,i + Nt,i + St,i + Ct,k + %k ) are
respectively. Prior distributions for (where Xt,i

generated with the bayesglm() package in R (Gelman, 2007). Incidence of sub-state violence
resulting in 25 battlefield deaths or more are denoted by Yt,i (Hallberg, 2012). Indicators
for the existence of at least one refugee camp with a province-year unit and whether a unit
belongs to a country neighboring a country in conflict on a given year are given by Mt,i and
Nt,i , respectively, both [0, 1] (UNHCR, 2013). Vectors St,i and Ct,j denote subnational and
time-varying country-level controls, respectively.
Specifically, vector St,i includes total number of ethnic groups (Wucherpfennig et al.,
2011); population (logged) (Tollefsen et al., 2012); per capita gdp (logged) (Tollefsen et al.,

Such approach results in the exclusion of the following regions of the world: Asiatic Russia, Australia/New Zealand, Caribbean, Eastern Asia, European Russia, Micronesia, Northern America, Northern Europe, Polynesia, and Western Europe.


2012); indicators for the existence of at least one IDP camp unit (separate indicators are also
included for other displacement locales including asylum-seekers and returnees) (UNHCR,
2013); land cover types (deciduous forest, evergreen forest, wetlands, croplands, barren lands,
urban lands, shrub lands, herbaceous lands, and areas of water, snow, and/or ice); average
ruggedness (relief) and absolute elevation; and province size (Shaver et al., 2013). Vector Ct,j
includes measures of government authority (Marshall and Jaggers, 2002) and proxy variables
for development levels (life expectancy at birth (total years); mortality rate under the age
of 5 (per 1,000 live births); immunizations against Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis and,
separately, Measles (% of children ages 12 - 23 months) (World Bank, 2012). Finally, %k
produces country fixed effects.
From our regression results, we calculate predicted probabilities of conflict onset as =

T )
/(e(Xt,i )
i=1 (e


+ 1)) for Mt,i = 1 and Mt,i = 0. Confidence intervals at the 95%

significance level are generated using quasi-Bayesian Monte Carlo simulation.5


H2: Are refugees a mechanism by which civil conflict from neighboring

countries diffuses?
Next, we test whether refugees are at least partly responsible for empirical patterns

of civil war diffusion using formal causal mediation techniques. In attempting to answer
this question previously, Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) carry out an elementary form of
mediation analysis that neither estimates an average casual mediation effect of refugees on
conflict likelihood nor assesses the statistical significance of such effect. We extend their

Because the inclusion of unit fixed effects within generalized linear models, such as the logistic regression
models used by Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) can (but will not necessarily) bias coefficients (Neyman and
Scott, 1948), we also generate unbiased results using conditional logistic regression, which we compare to
our primary regression results a Hausman test. They are statistically indistinguishable (p-value < 0.89).


analysis by carrying a formal mediation analysis of Figure 2.

Figure 2: The causal mediation chain posited by Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006): refugees is the intermediate
variable or mediator which is both affected by the main treatment variable civil war in neighbor, and
affects the outcome variable conflict onset in the host country.

We proceed as follows. First, we replicate Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006)s baseline

regression results. Because those authors base their results on pooled cross-sectional data;
compare treated units with countries that are unlikely recipients of refugees and are thus
seemingly unsuitable control comparisons; and do not control for the omitted variables we
identify in the preceding section, we suspect that their results may be biased. We then follow
the causal mediation approach introduced by Imai et al. (2010) and Imai et al. (2011) to
formally test the hypothesis that civil war diffuses regionally through refugee populations.
Specifically, we test the following equations:

P (Mt,i = 1|Nt,i , St,i , Ct,k ) = logit1 (i + Nt,i + St,i + Ct,k + k )


Equations (1) and (2) are then used to estimate P (Mt,i = 1|Nt,i = 0, St,i = s, Ct,k = c)
and P (Mt,i = 1|Nt,i = 1, St,i = s, Ct,k = c), the results of which are used to estimate the
probabilities and , where:

= P (Yt,i = 1|Nt,i = 1, M = Md
t,i (0), St,i = s, Ct,k = c)



= P (Yt,i = 1|Nt,i = 1, M = Md
t,i (1), St,i = s, Ct,k = c).


Finally, the estimated average causal mediation effect, denoted , of refugees is calculated:

= E{Yt,i (1, Md
t,i (1))} E{Yt,i (1, Mt,i (0))}.


Quasi-Bayesian Monte Carlo simulation is used generate a distribution of s with which

a 95% confidence interval is generated.


H3: How does a new refugee influx affect security in the host province?
Finally, we conduct a difference-in-differences analysis over the sample period (1989 to

2008) comparing camp-hosting provinces with their identified controls in the same countryyears in the years preceding and following refugee arrival. If refugee camps harbor insurgent
activity, exacerbate ethnic conflict, and/or provoke economic competition with local citizens,
local conflict should be observed in relative proximity to camps. This approach mitigates
biases in post-refugee comparisons between the camp provinces (treatment groups) and noncamp provinces of the same country (control groups) that may result from general differences
between the two groups, as well as biases from pre- and post-refugee comparisons in camp
provinces that may result from time trends.
Because it is possible that refugee camps were established in years immediately preceding
1989, and thus proper treatment status cannot be assigned to provinces in 1989 and the years

Equations are expressed in potential outcomes notation.


immediately thereafter, as a robustness check, we adopt the conservative assumption that

every province experienced refugee arrivals immediately prior to 1989 and subset our data
to only include observations from 1994 to 2008.


Test 1: Subnational Regression Results
The subnational regression analysis shows the presence of refugees are not significantly

correlated (see Table 1). Importantly, a model using pooled cross-sectional data is inconsistent with the subnational conditional fixed effects model (p-value < 6.17e 11). This result
persists even as country fixed effects and additional control variables are added (columns 2
and 3 of Table 1, respectively).
Figure 3 shows that province-year units with refugees are associated with an approximate
7.5% predicted probability of conflict onset. Units without refugees remain at approximately
6%. Aside from the small scientific magnitude of this difference, the quantities themselves
are statistically indistinguishable.
Even if we relax the assumption that if refugees drive conflict, we would observe conflict
precisely in the subnational provinces within which they settle, analysis at the country-year
level also supports our finding. By including country fixed effects to Salehyan and Gleditsch
(2006)s regression analysis eliminates the statistically significant coefficients previously reported (see Table 4).


Table 1: Regression Results of Refugee Camps on Conflict Onset using Province-Year Data

Dependent variable:

Refugee Camps (binary)

Civil War in Neighbor
Poliy Squared
GDP (per capita) (log)
Population (log)
Ethnic Heterogeneity











IDP Camps (binary)

Returnee Camps (binary)
Other Refugee Locations (binary)
Distance to Border (km)
Distance to Capital (km)


Development Covariates




Terrain Covariates




Country FE




23, 509
5, 119.576
10, 255.150

23, 509
3, 366.700

22, 500
3, 087.145

Log likelihood






Figure 3: Predicted Probabilities of Onset comparing Provinces without and with Refugee Camps


Test 2: Mediation Analysis Results

Formal mediation results using the subnational panel are also inconsistent with the claim

that refugee flows are responsible for civil war diffusion; in general, refugees are not a mediator between conflict in neighboring countries and conflict onset in the host country. Results
confirm previous findings that civil war diffuses regionally provinces within countries that
border at least one country experiencing conflict are significantly more likely to experience
conflict themselves. Yet, the presence of refugee camps do not account for any of the estimated increased likelihood. As Figure 4 shows, in the presence of civil war in a neighboring
country, units with and without refugees are equally likely to experience conflict.


Figure 4: Predicted Probabilities of Onset in Mediation Framework


Test 3: Examining Conflict Likelihood by Year of Refugee Arrival

In provinces previously unsettled by refugees, we find no evidence that the establishment

of camps triggers conflict.7 Figure 5 shows that during the year of a new refugee influx,
meaning at least one refugee camp is newly established, both the camp-hosting provinces
and their counterparts within the same country experience a slight spike in likelihood of onset.
This spike is likely due to the civil war in the neighboring country, which drives both refugee
flows and conflict onset in the affected country. However, in the years following refugee

From an interview with a UNHCR official, refugee camps are generally established ad hoc as a quick
response to an overwhelming phenomenon of displaced persons gathering at a location when they cant
walk any further (12/30/2013). Cases of anticipatory camps set up before displacement occurs or camps
taking years to be recognized by the UNHCR are highly unlikely. Thus, we believe that in our dataset the
year a camp is created coincides with the year a group of refugees arrive and settle into the given province.


Figure 5: Comparing Onset Likelihood between Refugee Camps Provinces and their non-Refugee Camp
Counterpart Provinces (1989 - 2008)

arrival, the likelihood of onset in camp-hosting provinces declines. For their counterparts,
non-camp provinces, in those same subsequent years, onset likelihood gradually increases.
A similar story emerges from the comparison of the incidence (rather than onset) of
conflict (see Figure 6). In camp-hosting provinces, a small increase in conflict likelihood
is observed during the year of refugee arrival after which this likelihood persistently decreases. Collectively, control provinces experience a similar contemporaneous increase but,
unlike treated units, experience increased conflict likelihood sometime around the third year
mark. These figures suggest the opposite phenomenon: security conditions within camphosting provinces may actually improve after the arrival of refugees. In response to refugee
inflows, international and regional humanitarian organizations including the UNHCR and
host-government security forces often travel to afflicted areas to provide aid and maintain
security. The presence of aid workers and (additional) security personnel and the infrastruc22

Figure 6: Comparing Incidence Likelihood between Refugee Camps Provinces and their non-Refugee Camp
Counterpart Provinces (1989 - 2008)

ture they often establish may explain actual reductions in conflict likelihood in such areas.
Finally, Figures 10 and 11 show that these general patterns are unchanged when the data is
subset to include only observations between the years of 1994 to 2008.

As the head of the International Rescue Committee recently warned, the number of

individuals displaced by persecution and conflict is a trend and not a blip (Gladston,
2015). Additionally, climatic variation is projected to fuel additional displacement over
coming decades (Field et al., 2014). Thus, the need for durable solutions to displacement is
urgent and critical.
There are currently three such solutions according to the UNHCR: voluntary repatriation,
local integration, or resettlement to a third country. First, even as a few refugee communi23

ties are able to return home, new populations of refugees continue to emerge. In 2014, for
example, while some 13.9 million people became newly displaced, just 126,800 refugees were
able to return to their countries of origin (UNHCR, 2014b). Next, for many refugees, including some 1.5 million Afghans still living in Pakistan, resettlement is unlikely, particularly
given the current anti-immigrant climate in U.S. and Europe (Sengupta, 2015). This leaves
local integration.
Humanitarian organizations like the UNHCR are currently pursuing alternatives to refugee
camps by advocating for physical integration into local villages; social integration, such as
giving refugees access to government social security and the right to work; and political integration such as expanding access to citizenship through naturalization campaigns (UNHCR,
2014c). Undoubtedly, these policies of local integration would need to rely on the consent
and cooperation of host governments and local communities. However, given concerns of
refugees spreading conflict in popular media, public policy, and academic scholarship, these
efforts at promoting local integration may become increasing intractable.
Ultimately, determining whether refugees tend to foment conflict is critical, both theoretically and from a policy respective. By examining the effects of refugee locations nationally
and subnationally, we find no evidence that refugee communities tend to increase conflict
likelihood in those areas in which they seek safety. Much as the intuitive claim that poverty
drives terrorism received considerable attention following the September 11, 2001 terrorist
attacks but was ultimately discredited by academics including Princeton economist Alan
Krueger (Krueger and Maleckova, 2003; Krueger, 2008), we find the notion that refugees
tend to spread conflict to be similarly misleading. Individual instances can, of course, be
found in which refugee communities were responsible for the production of violence. Yet, on

average, the presence of refugee communities is associated with no greater conflict likelihood
in the areas in which they settle than in those they do not. These results are consistent with
positions frequently espoused by relief workers who engage directly with refugee communities
populations they describe as consisting primarily of vulnerable individuals seeking safety
and aid and unlikely to engage directly in violence conflict with other communities of people.
This does not imply that host governments should not concern themselves with the
potentially destabilizing effect of refugee communities. In fact, our finding that provinces
which host refugees tend to be more secure in subsequent years most may reflect both
domestic and international efforts in increasing security in and around camps. Yet, if this is
the case, governments can take solace in the fact that their efforts are typically successful.
Future avenues of research on refugees and conflict dynamics might explore the the possible
stabilizing effects of aid and increased development infrastructure following refugee influxes.


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Summary Statistics of Displacement
Table 2: Summary of UNHCR Displacement Locales

Type of Locale
Refugee Accomodation
Refugee Camp
Refugee Center
Refugee Dispersed
Refugee Location
Refugee Settlement
Refugee Urban location
Refugee Total
IDP Accomodation
IDP Camp
IDP Center
IDP Dispersed
IDP Location
IDP Settlement
IDP Urban location
IDP Total
Asylum Seeker Accomodation
Asylum Seeker Center
Asylum Seeker Settlement
Asylum Seeker Total
Returnee Accomodation
Returnee Camp
Returnee Center
Returnee Location
Returnee Settlement
Returnee Total



Table 3: Summary of UNHCR Displacement Locations by Region

Central Africa and Great Lakes
East and Horn of Africa
Southern Africa
West Africa
Central Asia
East Asia and the Pacific
South Asia
South East Asia
South West Asia
Eastern Europe
Northern, Western, Central Europe
South Eastern Europe
Middle East and North Africa
North Africa
The Middle East
The Americas
Latin America
North America and the Caribbean


IDP Asylum Returnee

122 1







Figure 7: Number of UNHCR-Recognized Displacement Locations (1989 - 2008)



Figure 8: Map of All UNHCR-Recognized Displacement Locations by year of creation

Figure 9: Map of All UNHCR-Recognized Displacement Locations by type


Additional Results and Robustness Checks

Retesting Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) with Country FE
Table 4: S&Gs Table 4 Regression Results Replicated w/ Country FE

Dependent variable:













5, 568
1, 643.943

5, 568
1, 642.924

5, 685

Spline 1
Spline 2
Spline 3
Country FE
Log likelihood








Examining Conflict Likelihood by Year of Refugee Arrival

Figure 10: Comparing Onset Likelihood between Refugee Camps Provinces and their non-Refugee Camp
Counterpart Provinces (1994 - 2008)

Figure 11: Comparing Incidence Likelihood between Refugee Camps Provinces and their non-Refugee Camp
Counterpart Provinces (1994 - 2008)