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Refugees, Perceived Threat & Domestic Terrorism

Refugees’ effect on domestic terrorism is conditioned by host-country social perception (attitude about living next-door to foreigners) and economic competition. These hypotheses are tested cross-nationally from 1995-2014 leveraging data from the World Values Survey.

Graig R. Klein
08 November 2021
Taylor & Francis Online 'Refugees, Perceived Threat & Domestic Terrorism'

The results show social perception matters. When refugee flow to a country increases from the mean to 75th percentile, it does not statistically alter domestic terrorism risk. But when a host-country’s preference to not live next-door to foreigners is accounted for and changes from the mean (20.9%) to 75th percentile (30.3%), the change in refugee flow increases the risk of domestic terrorism by 40%.

Refugees are increasingly viewed as threats to national security instead of as vulnerable populations. This connection is heightened by governments’ repeated scapegoating of refugees following terror attacks. Research probing connections between refugees and violence or conflict has focused on “linear relationship(s)” of increased refugee flows to increased political violence, but newer research shows there are important conditioning factors – such as state capacity – disrupting a linear process. This article contributes to the growing focus on non-linear processes by analyzing how refugees’ effect on political violence in the host-country is conditioned by host-countries’ attitudes about living near foreigners and job market conditions. These two important societal conditions can lead to an increased number of refugees in the host-country being perceived as a threat and competition, which sometimes culminates in violence. The argument is tested on a specific type of political violence – domestic terrorism.

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