Refugees and Asylum Seekers for better or worse have made the decision to leave their country of origin and move to their destination country (whether this is a distant destination or a neighboring country, and includes settling in refugee camps). This decision brings with it a variety of experiences, and these experiences are often unique to the individual and unique to their host nation. Perceptions of experiences in host nations are often included in the decision making process above. This section does not wish to diminish the individuality of those refugee and asylum seeker experiences, but merely to provide some insight into general experiences of these individuals and provide a cross section of the multidisciplinary research that has been conducted in this vein.
As we have discussed extensively in this course, discourse and labels matter, and the terms “refugee” and “asylum seeker” bring with it benefits and drawbacks both to an individual’s identity and their experiences in their host countries. The benefits of the legal term “refugee” include that the individual cannot be returned to their country of origin if their life is in danger, and in the United States many refugees have access to national programs, such as food stamps and worker’s permit, to help them get settled (Ludwig, 2013).
Refugees and asylum seekers are typically already under stress; however, they also experience “anxiety and depression” (Strang & Quinn, 2019). While these stressors differ from other immigrants, some may be similar, such as the potential of difficulty communicating due to different language or culture. Even the label “refugee” can be difficult, due to the unintended drawbacks that come with the label's status. Refugees can be stigmatized at times, especially as they can be viewed as “helpless,” “dependent,” and possibly a “resource drain” (Ludwig, 2013). Ludwig (2013), however, recognizes that this stigma may differ by a refugee’s country of origin, finding that “Liberians and other Black” refugees are often seen as an “economic burden.” This intolerance is not unique to Liberians and other Black refugees in the United States, but has also been found with Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, who experienced “multilevel intolerance,” including but not limited to perceived prejudice, stereotypes, perceived discrimination, and scapegoating (Kheireddine et al., 2020; Strang & Quinn, 2019). The label of “refugee” can also make it difficult to integrate into their host country’s society from a variety of perspectives: socially and economically. They struggle with the question: When is it ok to stop being called a refugee? (Ludwig, 2013) Which also begs the question: Is this only the decision of the refugee?
These generalized trends of the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers does not take into account that these experiences often also differ by gender. While this strand of refugee experiences has not been widely researched, the research that has been conducted does indicate that more research should be conducted. Strang and Quinn (2019) researched the experiences of single Afghan and Iranian men in Scotland. Their research, complementing Robertshaw et al.’s (2017) research demonstrating that female refugees were able to share their emotions more freely with friends; while the male refugees in Strang and Quinn’s (2019) research had to redefine their identity to allow them to emotionally connect.
These labels the refugees and asylum seekers are given, are not just present to them, but also to immigrants: both authorized and unauthorized. Media (including social media and news programs) often play a part in how members of the host nation view these groups. Murray and Marx (2013) noted in their research from participants along the U.S.-Mexico border region that there are differences in how individuals in host nations view threats associated with an immigrant based on the label they are provided, with unauthorized immigrants being seen as being a larger perceived threat to overall welfare than authorized immigrants. While threat perception towards authorized and unauthorized immigrants was impacted by generational differences, this effect does not appear in attitudes towards refugees, where participants were overall positive about refugee resettlement programs (Murray & Marx, 2013).
This positivity that Murry and Marx (2013) found in the United States towards refugees and asylum seekers is not shared worldwide, with researchers finding that nations in the European Union are generally less positive (Crawley et al., 2019). A poll from 2016 shows that many people in European Union countries believe that refugees will increase terrorism and be a burden on the country (Wike et al., 2016). In addition, scale (there’s that word again) is also important here. Variations in attitudes also can vary regionally and even between rural and urban areas, as evidenced by Crawley et al.’s (2019) work denoting regional differences in attitudes towards asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, as well as more positive attitudes in urban versus rural areas of the UK.
Much of the research surrounding host nation attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers, as with other immigrants, identifies the importance of “intergroup contact” and “reciprocity” to create positive interactions and attitudes, where individuals from the host nation and refugees meet and interact (Crawley et al., 2019; Strang & Quinn, 2019). While this “intergroup contact” can be helpful in attitudes towards refugees in their host nations, it is also important to keep in mind the refugee’s network: friends, family, and/or the existence of communities with cultural similarities, as they can be an incredibly important source of support for refugees. If refugees are placed in areas where they have no support, they may make the decision to take on additional hardships and move to another place, possibly even within the host country, where they would have access to such a support network. This was found to be true of refugees in Canada, who even chose to stay in transit locations or migrate again to be closer to a support network (Simich et al., 2003). While there may be factors that compel a refugee or asylum seeker to stay in a transit point, there are also factors that may compel refugees to continue their journey to secondary destinations. One such study looking at Eritrean asylum seekers in Italy found that asylum seekers may decide to continue to secondary destinations due to “National differences in the quality of the reception system, in welfare policies, and in labour market opportunities” (Brekke & Brochmann, 2014).
Moral of the research review: the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees are varied and complex. They vary by the individual, by the group, by the origin, by the destination, by the individuals and groups in the destination, by the policies of the destination, and the list could go on forever. However, as evidenced by this section, there is a large body of research into the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, how to potentially improve their experiences, and what policies influence those experiences.
Brekke, J., and Brochmann, G. (2014). Stuck in transit: Secondary migration of asylum seekers in Europe, national differences, and the Dublin Regulation. Journal of Refugee Studies, 28(2), 145-162.
Crawley, H., Drinkwater, S., and Kausar, R. (2019). Attitudes towards asylum seekers: Understanding differences between rural and urban areas. Journal of Rural Studies, 71, 104-113.
Kheireddine, B. J., Soares, A. M., and Rodrigues, R. G. (2020). Understanding (in)tolerance between hosts and refugees in Lebanon. Journal of Refugee Studies, 34(1), 397-421.
Ludwig, B. (2013). “Wiping the refugee dust from my feet”: Advantages and burdens of refugee status and the refugee label. International Migration, 54(1), 5-18.
Murray, K. E., and Marx, D. M. (2013). Attitudes toward unauthorized immigrants, authorized immigrants, and refugees. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 19(3), 332-341.
Robertshaw, L., Dhesi, S., and Jones, L. L. (2017). Challenges and facilitators for health professionals providing primary healthcare for refugees and asylum seekers in high-income countries: A systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative research. BMJ Open, 7(8), e015981.
Simich, L., Beiser, M., and Mawani, F. N. (2003). Social support and the significance of shared experience in refugee migration and resettlement. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 25(7), 872-891.
Strang, A. B., and Quinn, N. (2019). Integration or isolation? Refugees’ social connections and wellbeing. Journal of Refugee Studies, 34(1), 328-353.
Wilke, R., Stokes, B., and Simmons, K. (2016). Europeans fear wave of refugees will mean more terrorism, fewer jobs. Pew Research Center.