Towards a Psychology of Refugee Integration
Pr. Gerald Echterhoff, WWU Münster
Abstract. Worldwide numbers of refugees have surged again, now exceeding 26 million. In the foreseeable future, most refugees will not be able to return to their homes. The integration of refugees in receiving countries is the most promising and decent response to this situation, which requires a sound understanding of underlying psychological processes. I will present a framework on the Psychological Antecedents of Refugee Integration (PARI), developed in collaboration with experts from different fields of psychology (Echterhoff, Hellmann, Back, Kärtner, Morina, & Hertel, 2020; Perspectives on Psychological Science).
We argue that forcedness (i.e., coercion by push factors) and ensuing perils (risks and potential suffering during migration) are distinctive factors of refugee migration. According to the PARI framework, perceptions and subjective representations of forcedness and related perils trigger specific psychological mechanisms (e.g., loss of control) that moderate integration-relevant responses to immigration-related demands and stressors. Simply put, the characteristics of forced migration are assumed trigger predictable responses, revealing a specific psychological signature of reactions to refugeehood. For instance, the stress and perils of migration can strengthen refugees’ need for integration in a safe receiving country. However, the feeling of losing control, the role of being a needy victim, or coping with traumatic memories can restrict mental resources needed for adaptation and integration. Residents’ responses to the distinctive characteristics of refugee immigration can also tilt towards the positive or negative side: The perception of forced migration and its associated perils can strengthen residents’ empathy for immigrants who come as refugees but also induce residents to experience increased feelings of threat. Furthermore, perceptions of refugees’ lack of choice or control over their migration can induce residents to feel that refugees lack intrinsic interest in the receiving society, inducing negative expectations and attitudes regarding refugee integration. I will present related evidence, if existing, and briefly discuss implications for policy-making and interventions.