Little by Little: Exploring the impact of social acceptance on refugee integration into host communities

Conflict and crisis leaves an unprecedented 22.5 million people living in exile today. The sheer number of people seeking international protection and the capacity of host countries to cope with those numbers are changing the conversation around how the international community should best respond. To better understand how local integration plays out within communities, particularly the process of social integration, Catholic Relief Services contracted the DC-based research firm Causal Design to undertake a three-country qualitative study. This investigation consisted of a series of focus group discussions and key informant interviews with community members (host and refugee), practitioners, government and UN officials, and leaders from civil society in three different contexts: Ecuador, India, and Jordan. 

This study strongly suggests that social acceptance is an integral component of a refugee’s integration process and thus should be prioritized in programming and policy development. While promoting social integration does not directly address an immediate survival need, it can facilitate access to other components of the integration process, such as housing and employment, and potentially improve other outcomes of interest, such as mental health. This study reinforces what the New York Declaration and past research has shown: host communities play a significant role in the integration of refugees. What has been somewhat ignored in the past, however, is that the presence of refugees has deep implications for host communities’ everyday lives. Just like refugees, host communities require support that reflects the multifaceted ways—economic, political, social, and developmental—in which their lives are affected.

Further, the study elucidates a variety of tools and means for donors, practitioners, and host governments to foster social acceptance and relationships between members of both communities. These include utilizing existing community spaces, such as schools, or creating new opportunities, such as community savings groups, where refugees and members of the host community can get to know one another on a personal level. Recruiting thought leaders, developing education campaigns, and influencing the media can further help to inform the public about refugees and dispel stereotypes and misinformation. These opportunities for personal interaction and greater community awareness can also counter the spread of stereotypes and misinformation, which inherently block social integration.

Although formal integration is a non-starter in many host countries, informal integration, including social acceptance, offers a pathway for refugees to pursue dignified lives while waiting to return home or resettle in a third country. Creating opportunities for refugees to contribute to and engage with the host country also has the potential to reduce the burden placed on the local community, a key component in fostering the development of meaningful relationships.

Published 2019-01-14