Under what conditions will forcibly displaced persons return to their original homes after wars end? We draw on theories of labor migration to show that even displaced persons who have positive feelings toward their original location may nevertheless choose to return as regular visitors rather than permanent residents unless the location offers attractive economic opportunities. Furthermore, we argue that violence can create negative emotions not only toward geographic locations of bloodshed but also against its perpetrators. After ethnic wars displaced may be unwilling to return to intermixed locations, exacerbating ethnic separation. We study postwar migration among Lebanese Christians displaced during the 1980s and identify economic conditions using exogenous price shocks for olive oil, a major local export. Among policy implications for economic reconstruction and transitional justice, our most important insight is that sometimes we should help displaced in their new location rather than induce permanent return to their old homes.
Circulating or Under Review
Since 2007, the number of refugees fleeing conflict and violence has doubled to about 25 million. Although mass migration has destabilized the European Union, lead to broad changes in national immigration policies, and triggered the resurgence of far right, xenophobic political parties, human smuggling has attracted little attention in political science. We address this gap by theorizing key features of the political economy of smuggling. We emphasize the importance of reputational dynamics within smuggling networks which create long-term economic incentives to avoid risks, particularly in the Mediterranean sea. We leverage granular data on migrant flows across the Mediterranean, coupled with information about sea routes, riots at port cities, and wave conditions, to test our theoretical argument. We find strong evidence consistent with our argument that smugglers strategically minimize the probability of potential harm to migrants, especially while at sea. This finding may represent an opportunity for targeted policy interventions.
Border refugee camps sometimes provoke cross-border attacks and destroy productive land and may introduce disease into the refugee recipient country population. On domestic grounds alone, it appears that border refugee camps are often suboptimal. Yet countries frequently choose to set up border camps in response to refugee flows. Why, then, are border refugee camps so common? They can accomplish a foreign policy aim. When a refugee-receiving country wants to support a rebel group in a neighboring country, the refugee-receiving country can set up border camps, invite international funding, and allow access for a rebel group to recruit, tax, and politicize its cause among refugees. This article draws on East African refugee crises to develop a model of refugee policy selection during a strategic civil war. Implications from the model can help aid agencies improve the conditions of refugees in camps. By identifying what kind of interest---domestic or foreign policy---is driving the border refugee camp, humanitarian organizations can propose camps that meet these needs of the refugee-receiving country while being less crowded or further from a border.
"Refugee Return and Food Insecurity: Explaining Increases in Violence in Ongoing Civil Wars," 2018. (pdf)
Violent conflict often appears to follow large numbers of refugees to their destination country. This problem is well documented, but mechanisms linking large flows of migrants to violence are not well understood. To better understand one mechanism, this article contributes theory and evidence linking shock-like flows of migrants to violence through increases in food prices. When food prices increase in subsistence economies, real wages decrease, and rebel groups, who can take advantage of coercion and theft to procure food, have an opportunity for recruitment. Stabilizing food prices may limit the extent of recruitment and prevent greater violence. Therefore, a policy change or intervention with food aid could prevent violence. By strategically providing food aid to areas that receive large flows of migrants and also have active rebel movements, humanitarian organizations can counteract the demand pressure that shock-like flows of migrants put on necessities like food.
Working Papers and Work in Progress
"Returning Home and Worsening the War: The Causal Effect of Refugee Return on Civil Conflict Intensity" (pdf)
As Syrian refugees continue to flee from their ongoing civil war, the countries neighboring Syria warn of the refugees’ destabilizing effects in their countries of asylum. The fears of Syrian refugees’ asylum countries like Lebanon, echo analysis of the cascade of African conflicts beginning nearly two decades ago. Political scientists have focused on rebels and militants hidden amongst the refugees as the drivers of the spreading violence. However, large population movements are associated with increases in violence, even in the absence of civil wars and rebel groups. Because of their size large population movements can overextend institutions in their destination, leading to increases in violent crime and political violence. It is difficult though to know whether increases in violence that are caused by large refugee influxes are because of the militants among the refugees or because of the population shift more generally. I propose a novel identification strategy for disentangling these sources of violence. Focusing on the situation in which refugees return during an ongoing civil war, I use natural disasters as an instrument. I estimate that violence increases 3% - 8% for every 100,000 returnees. The measurable increase in violence in the context of civil war gives credence to concerns over large population movements destabilizing their destination, not because those arriving are strategic violent agents, but because the existing structures that maintain order fail.
"Leaving as a Community: How Uncertainty and Group Dynamics Inform the Choice to Flee Violence" (pdf)
In 1993 a coup in Burundi touched off several weeks of widespread political violence. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled to neighboring countries in the first days following the coup. I use detailed information from this episode in Burundi to examine patterns of migration and violence. I draw on insights from the collective action and global games literature to model a group decision to flee when there is uncertainty about violence. Unlike decision making models typically used to study migration, this group framework accounts for patterns in group arrivals, like large scale migration before violence occurs. The model also provides insight into why at a critical point in the Burundian crisis, the number of persons fleeing Burundi fell off dramatically even though violence continued and a large proportion of the population remained in Burundi. More broadly, implications for the model can inform international planning for large scale refugee flight and the theory illuminates other migration phenomena in which uncertainty plays a key role, like migration due to climate change.
"Using Foreign Aid to Prevent Migrant Flows from Ongoing Conflicts" (pdf)
In 2016, the United Kingdom and countries from the European Union announced plans to use development aid to mitigate migration from Africa. Among the countries they target are several with ongoing civil wars. I investigate this policy option—giving development aid to a country in an ongoing civil war—and its implications for migration. I theorize that when countries send development aid to countries in civil war, that development aid alters how much in resources the government, and in response a rebel group, strategically invest in fighting. Even with increased investment in fighting, it is possible that development aid can bring sufficient benefits to offset violence and decrease migration. But the critical factor in whether development aid decreases migration or not is the relative efficiency with which the government and the rebel group fight and produce. I find evidence for the theory. On average, outflows during a civil war are reduced with increased development aid. However, the reductions are small—on the order of hundreds of people per millions of dollars. Furthermore, I find evidence for the efficiency condition in the theory. I argue that governments should be cautious in pursuing a strategy of providing aid to mitigate conflict-driven migration, given the small average effects. In addition, the problems with measuring the relative production technology of rebel groups may make targeting aid at the right conflicts prohibitively difficult.