Research Topic Post

I am proposing to research refugee programs because I want to find out why some integration programs succeed or fail in order to help my reader understand whether these programs are applicable in other protracted integration scenarios in developed nations.

One puzzle I found points to a larger puzzle in developed nations approaches. Two developed nations—Sweden and Norway—with similar histories, economies, societal structures, and nations which have, historically, been viewed as “liberal” and “welcoming” towards refugees have had two different outcomes from their integration programs. Both countries have seemingly well-rounded, albeit different integration programs yet unemployment is three times higher in the refugee population than in the native population and “refugees are over-represented in low income/low status occupations.”[1]  The article notes “more proactive measures [are needed] to increase employment among immigrants and refugees,”[2] however, it’s possible the issue has been fixed in the eight years following the article’s publication.  This case study represents two governmentally involved local integration programs which have flaws but are on the way to being comprehensive plans for protracted refugee situations. It is worth noting though, during the most recent migrant wave to Europe in 2015, Norway has decreased the number of refugees they are willing to take in and have even tightened border security,[3] unlike their neighbor, Sweden, who is one of the bigger receivers of refugees in Europe.

Two different European nations—the Netherlands and Italy—with different histories, economies, and cultures, also have different approaches to long-term refugee situations. In the Netherlands, there is a structure reception and integration program for refugees.[4]  If refugees gain “F” statues they are entitled to three years of housing and a small allowance “but no provision directed at integration into Dutch society, such as compulsory professional language training, the right to re-train and work.”[5]  Therefore, most refugees interviewed by Korac found the process a “waste of time” due to the almost institutionalized isolation from the outside world.[6]  Even employed refugees feel disconnected from society.[7] These refugees want to become a part of Dutch society but were unable to form close ties with the Dutch so instead “their social networks were primarily based on family and kinship ties or establish along ethnic lines” and experienced “the Dutch system of integration as the state control over their lives by imposing on them demands to conform”.[8]  The Dutch approach needs serious reconsidering and retooling to help refugees and allow them the opportunity to become contributing members of society.

In Italy, there is basically no state assistance, since “it is assumed that those in need will be assisted primarily through self-help systems established within refugee and migrant networks, which will encourage them to become self-sufficient in a short period.”[9] The lack of assistance meant, for the first few years, refugees in Rome struggled to survive and most of them felt they had established themselves enough to feel a sense of security living in planning their future.[10]   However, in this scenario and unlike in the Netherlands, the refugees in Rome were able to develop “considerably strong social ties outside their ethnic groups established through many informal day-to-day contacts”[11]  this points towards the lack of any program forcing refugees to forge their own way forward in Italian society. As refugees in Rome gained economic security, their ethnic ties decreased.[12]  Neither of these approaches can be considered generally successful; they do point out some general lessons one must keep in mind when regarding integration programs.

The refugee wave which occurred in 2015 to Europe is not the first big refugee wave the developed world has faced, nor is it likely to be the last. As the effects of climate change impact communities and violence continue to tear nations apart, the numbers of refugees will only increase. In 2017, in Germany alone there were almost one million refugees, amounting to about one percent of their population, in Sweden about 2.5 percent of their population is refugees, Austria, 1.3% and so on.[13]  These developed nations face an influx of refugees unpreceded since WWII. These numbers, protracted refugee situations being the norm not the exception, and the increasing number of situations with the potential to lead to more refugee waves, illustrate the need for integration programs as a solution leading to the long-term stability and prosperity of the refugees as well as the host nation. As nations age, such as Germany, allowing immigrants and refugees to solve part of the problem; by 2015’s end, “the influx of young migrants [had] brought down the average age in Germany for the first time since reunification”[14] and as the population continues to age and jobs go unfilled “Germany is going to need even more…immigrants to keep its economy on track and cover growing pension outlays”.[15]  Integration programs encourage the development of ties with the local community rather than refugees becoming isolated from the nation. The isolation of refugees along with poor integration programs has the potential to lead to the radicalization of refugees in developed nations, a problem no country wants to have to face but will if they do not invest in and develop their integration programs.[16]

My two draft research questions are as follows: what explains the success or failure of protracted refugee integration programs? What defines the success or failure of prolonged refugee integration programs in European welfare states after the Yugoslav Wars wave?



[1] Valenta, Marko and Bunar, Nihad. “State Assisted Integration: Refugee Integration Policies in Scandinavian Welfare States: the Swedish and Norwegian Experience”. Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 23 Issue 4, 2010. Pp. 470

[2] Ibid, 472

[3] Morrison, Julia. “10 Facts About Refugees in Norway”. (accessed 29 September 2018).

[4] Korac, Maja. “Integration and How We Facilitate it: A Comparative Study of Settlement Experiences of Refugees in Italy and the Netherlands”. Sociology, Vol. 37 Issue 1, 2003. Pp. 7-8

[5] Ibid, 7-8

[6] Ibid, 8

[7] Ibid, 9-11

[8] Ibid, 12, 13

[9] Ibid, 14

[10] Ibid, 15

[11] Ibid, 16

[12] Ibid, 17

[13] “A Welcoming Europe?”. (accessed 29 September 2018)

[14] Deutsche Welle. „Germany’s aging population: Births up, deaths down in 2016”. (accessed 29 September 2018)

[15] Hockenos, Paul. „Germany’s Secret Labor Experiment“. (accessed 29 September 2018)

[16] Barber, Tony. “The roots of radical Islam in Belgium”. (accessed 29 September 2018).

4 thoughts on “Research Topic Post”

  1. Phoebe,

    your topic is so interesting! I also think it’d be worth your time to investigate different of refugee camps outside of Europe. For instance, Kutupalong in Bangladesh. has the largest refugee camp in the world. It has a population of almost 900,000. I think you could compare these camps to integration programs (the programs used in many European countries). Obviously, both have positives and negatives. However, I think it would be well worth your time to possibly investigate non-Euro refugee “solutions”. Here’s a link to some examples (maybe somewhere to get started!) . Good luck, it looks great so far!

    1. Hi Lauren,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
      I did begin my researching looking at all refugee programs, but unfortunately for most developing nations, there is simply no cohesive, governmentally mandated refugee program. Instead, refugees are either living in massive camps that become like their own cities within their host country or refugees are just sort of thrown into the nation without any guidance or governmental help. Therefore, these cases pose a different, but still interesting and important, refugee program question than the one I am researching. However, if you see these camps/situations in an “integration” light which could bring an additional layer of complexity to my research–I would love to hear it and discuss it with you!

  2. Phoebe,
    your topic is so important in today’s world; I am really interested to see where you go with your ideas! I believe it could be worthwhile investigating the political background of the cases you choose to research as I know that Italy, under its current leadership, has taken an anti-immigration stance whereas prior to their new government, the PD (Democratic Party) had more of an accepting approach to refugees. This new approach under Italy’s new government, where the political majority is held by a coalition between 5 Stelle and Lega Nord, may be a part of the wave of nationalist politics that has swept the globe.

  3. Overall you have a very good foundation for your research project here, Phoebe, especially in terms of the general background information that lays out the recent series of events in certain countries. As you think about the project, more could be done to highlight the *conceptual* problem (following Booth et al.) or theoretical puzzle, though. What is it in these scholarly sources in particular that points to a debate or puzzle here? In other words, beyond the observed differences that you trace out, what is conceptually or theoretically debated here? The draft research questions you have at the end of the post are both good starts, though the draft case-specific question could use some work. The case-specific question should be one that identifies particular cases for analysis/comparison (drawing on the ideas of control and variation from Baglione). What would that case specific question for your project look like?

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