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International Organization for Migration

What kind of evidence might persuade people to change their minds on refugees?

Duncan Green's picture

Oxfam Humanitarian Policy Adviser Ed Cairns reflects on using evidence to influence the treatment of refugees.

Who thinks that governments decide what to do on refugees after carefully considering the evidence? Not many, I suspect. So it was an interesting to be asked to talk about that at the  ‘Evidence for Influencing’conference Duncan wrote about last week.

When I think what influences refugee policy, I’m reminded of a meeting I had in Whitehall on Friday 4 September, two days after the three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, had drowned.  Oxfam and other NGOs had been invited in to talk about refugees. The UK officials found out what their policy was by watching Prime Minister David Cameron on their phones, as he overturned the UK’s refusal to resettle thousands of Syrians in a press conference in Lisbon.  Even then, he and his officials refused to promise how many Syrians would be allowed. By Monday, that line had crumbled as well, and a promise of 20,000 by 2020 was announced.

The evidence of course had shown that children and other refugees had been tragically drowning in the Mediterranean for months. But it was the sheer human emotion, the public interest, and no doubt Cameron’s own compassion that made the change. Evidence and the evidence-informed discussion between officials and NGOs had nothing to do with it. More important was that a single image of a drowned boy spread to 20 million screens within 12 hours as #refugeeswelcome began trending worldwide. As research by the Visual Social Media Lab at the University of Sheffield set out, “a single image transformed the debate”.

Cairns 2


Two years later, a new Observatory of Public Attitudes to Migration has just been launched by the Florence-based Migration Policy Centreand its partners, including IPSOS Mori in the UK.  It aims to be the ‘go-to centre for researchers and practitioners’, and has sobering news for anyone who thinks that evidence has a huge influence on this issue.  Anti-migrant views, it shows, are far more driven by the values of tradition, conformity and security, and within the UK in particular, according to an IPSOS Mori study, by a distrust of experts, alongside suspicion of diversity, human rights and “political correctness”.

Immigration and displacement: The importance of social networks for those leaving home

Roxanne Bauer's picture

This is the third post in a series of six in which Michael Woolcock, Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank and lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, discusses critical ideas within the field of Social Development.

International migration trends have been the subject of fierce debate globally, and when you look at the data it’s no surprise why this is the case.  In 2015, the number of international migrants was the highest ever recorded, reaching 244 million (from 232 million in 2013), according to the International Organization for Migration.  Moreover, the number of people fleeing conflict has also risen. UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency, estimates that 65.3 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, 21.3 million of which are now refugees, and around 10 million people are stateless.

These massive flows of people, however, demonstrate the incredible capacity of social networks to help individuals navigate and deal with new experiences. For most migrants the choice to move is an existential one in which they weigh the risk it takes to make the journey with the potential opportunities it may bring.  In doing so they consider where and how people they know have traveled before them, and which relationships they can tap into for support. Individuals living in diasporas also respond by sharing critical knowledge and tools, sending remittances, and in bridging the cultures between the newly arrived and their new communities.

As Michael Woolcock explains, the risk involved with migrating is directly affected by the social networks that individuals can construct to cope with the hazards and vulnerability that they encounter- both in the process of moving but also in settling and figuring out how things are done in the new locale.
 

Immigration and displacement: The importance of social networks for those leaving home