Press Release

With sufficient and smart support, refugees can positively impact European and other host countries

Nov 26, 2015
2033 K St NW
Washington, DC 20006
United States
  • Refugees can fill gaps in labor markets and boost innovation of countries
  • Climate change expected to increase number of global refugees

The surge of refugees, including those flowing into Europe from Syria, can positively affect economic growth by increasing the labor force and boosting demand for goods, without introducing negative effects often attributed to foreigners, a new study has found.

The study, entitled “The EU Refugee Crisis: The Tip of a Global Iceberg,” found that overall economic effects of refugees on developed countries are small but often positive—including contributing to innovation and filling gaps in the labor force. The benefits can be even greater for developing countries, where the majority of today’s refugees have sought asylum.

“Large inflows of people can create logistical and security challenges, but the current focus on this obscures the fact that if given proper support, refugee populations tend to contribute positively to their host countries, depending on a number of factors,” said Clemens Breisinger, a researcher with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and co-author of the study.

By the Numbers

  • 14.4 million: The number of refugees worldwide in 2014.
  • 85: Percent of refugees hosted by developing countries.
  • 23.2: The percent of the population in Lebanon who are refugees—the world’s highest.
  • 0: Amount of strong evidence linking refugees and criminality.

The study, by Breisinger and Jean-François Maystadt of Lancaster University, also suggests that conflict and weather variations resulting from climate change are likely to propel future migration. Collaborative efforts will be needed to address the impacts of climate change and to build resilience to climate-related shocks, such as droughts and food price spikes.

“Addressing the root causes of conflict must be part of a comprehensive strategy to deal with the current refugee crisis,” Breisinger added. “Food insecurity can be a root cause of conflict and therefore eradicating hunger and poverty will help building peace.”

The study says increased support for refugees will help countries successfully navigate the population influx, particularly as the refugee population in the European Union continues to grow.

The study found no strong links tying refugees to increased crime. However, evidence from Tanzania suggests that children in refugee-hosting areas have experienced negative health effects, and a study of malaria found a “significant increase” in the spread of malaria due to refugee migration in tropical regions. A causal relationship between refugees and health risks, however, was not found.

According to the study, there were 14.4 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2014, and 86 percent were hosted by developing countries. The authors suggest the number of refugees in Europe will increase by almost three-quarters of a million people in 2015, but that the share of refugees is likely to remain below 1 percent of the EU’s total population.

“Closing borders to displaced people will certainly not help to reduce instability in the world,” said Maystadt. “On the contrary, it will exacerbate a situation where the overwhelming majority of displaced people are hosted in developing countries, with limited absorption capacity. Evidence shows that a coordinated response to the refugee inflows may create new opportunities for jobs in OECD countries, with minimal impacts on labor markets, criminality and public finance.”

In order to maximize positive outcomes for both the refugee populations and host countries, the authors suggest increased support for refugees and their hosts, long-term support solutions for refugees unlikely to be able to return to their home countries, and more investments in “fragile states and countries prone to natural calamities,” which can precipitate refugee crises.