With respect to Statement 1, responses were grouped towards the middle with three panel members agreeing, two disagreeing and six staying neutral (“neither agreed nor disagreed”).
While several panelists noted a paucity of studies relating directly to this statement, some drew on related work or observations from examples around the world. For instance, Paul Frijters, in agreeing with the statement, argued “(i) whole societies that function well (like Israel) were essentially made up of refugees, (ii) we know that migrants in general do largely assimilate in wellbeing terms to the host-population, (iii) we know that people get over almost any short-run shock as long as they can rebuild social relations, (iv) refugees are likely to move towards a country they can do well in.”
Richard Easterlin noted that refugees tend to move to countries that are more advanced in economic development and health circumstances. However, he disagreed with the Statement on the grounds that refugees tend to end up with a lower socio-economic status than the native born.
Arthur Grimes drew on evidence to indicate differing outcomes in different situations: “There is evidence that migrants who move to other countries have wellbeing in their new countries that is close to that of natives (Hendriks et al., 2018; Grimes and Wesselbaum, 2020), but there is also some contrary evidence for economic migrants from a poor to a rich country (Stillman et al., 2015).”
Both Gigi Foster and Arthur Grimes noted that many refugees from war-torn countries will suffer from mental health issues (including PTSD) which will inhibit their wellbeing at least initially. Gigi Foster was cautiously optimistic that longer term outcomes would, on balance, see an improvement in refugee wellbeing. Tony Beatton also argued that convergence will tend to occur but may be coloured by the effect of trauma from leaving their home country under duress.
A number of respondents spoke of likely heterogeneity in outcomes. For instance, Ori Heffetz emphasised that a key part of the Statement is that the refugee ends up “making a new life”. For these people, outcomes may converge to local levels while “those who end up less lucky may experience great suffering and stay miserable in the longer run.”
Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell also spoke of differences across migrant groups noting that while migrants tend to increase their happiness level after migration (Hendriks et al., 2018), they do not necessarily converge to local wellbeing levels. Citing Brockmann (2021), she notes that there is a selection effect to account for since people with personality traits that correlate with happiness have a larger probability to migrate. This selection effect makes it hard to generalise about wellbeing effects of migration for families forced to flee war zones.
Mark Wooden noted that research mostly finds that forced migration is associated with anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders, related both to the traumatic experiences that precipitated migration, and to other stressors on arrival in their new country (e.g. detainment in camps, language barriers, unemployment, discrimination, and separation from family). He interprets the literature to indicate that catch-up tends to occur (for some migrants) but that catch-up tends to be incomplete. Furthermore, the gaps may be larger and more persistent for refugee groups, especially where there are marked cultural differences between source and host country.
While research specifically covering refugees is more sparse than that for migrants, Wenceslao Unanue references a recent study (Walther et al., 2020) showing “that the long-run wellbeing of refugees depends on their different living conditions. For example, whereas uncertain legal status and leaving their families are related to decreased life satisfaction, finding a job and building a strong contact with the host society are associated with higher levels of life satisfaction.” These findings reinforce likely heterogeneity in effects on families depending on whether they do indeed “make a new life” in their new surroundings.
There was a much stronger measure of agreement in relation to Statement 2, with four respondents agreeing completely and all others agreeing.
Two underlying reasons were forwarded as to why the wellbeing of refugees in long-term camps will not catch up with that of locals.
The first was summarised by Martin Binder as: “Living conditions in long-term camps would prevent this.”
The second was summarised by Carol Graham as: “The reason is obvious. How can they integrate?”
Paul Frijters points to research on long-run mental health in refugee camps (e.g. van de Wiel et al., 2021) which finds that “(i) mental health outcomes are worse than normal in these camps, (ii) the longer the wait till having a settled visa status the worse the mental health, (iii) stayers in long-term camps are often seen as low-status and inferior by locals.”
Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell also cites the study of van de Wiel et al. (2021) to show that: “quality of life in these camps is very low and in addition they are isolated and prevented from any possible integration into the country (even if they are allowed to work)… Current evidence shows that these refugees are in poor mental health.”
Arthur Grimes points to the example of Australia “where refugees are held in poor conditions for extensive periods and where riots and suicides occur in the camps as a result of degrading treatment by the authorities. These debilitating wellbeing outcomes contrast hugely with the high SWB both of Australian natives and of legal migrants to Australia.” An Australian respondent, Mark Wooden, adds: “Long-term immigrant detention has consistently been shown to result in long-term psychological harm. Further these health impacts, together with feelings of insecurity and injustice and low self-esteem that long-term detention fosters, can stay with refugees well after release.”
Gigi Foster neatly summarises many of the points made above: “Being in a camp - separated from others and unable to enjoy normal life - is a persistent stressor. The evidence suggests that this stressor blocks the healing, recovery and assimilation process.”