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Syrian Arab Republic

What kind of evidence might persuade people to change their minds on refugees?

Duncan Green's picture

Oxfam Humanitarian Policy Adviser Ed Cairns reflects on using evidence to influence the treatment of refugees.

Who thinks that governments decide what to do on refugees after carefully considering the evidence? Not many, I suspect. So it was an interesting to be asked to talk about that at the  ‘Evidence for Influencing’conference Duncan wrote about last week.

When I think what influences refugee policy, I’m reminded of a meeting I had in Whitehall on Friday 4 September, two days after the three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, had drowned.  Oxfam and other NGOs had been invited in to talk about refugees. The UK officials found out what their policy was by watching Prime Minister David Cameron on their phones, as he overturned the UK’s refusal to resettle thousands of Syrians in a press conference in Lisbon.  Even then, he and his officials refused to promise how many Syrians would be allowed. By Monday, that line had crumbled as well, and a promise of 20,000 by 2020 was announced.

The evidence of course had shown that children and other refugees had been tragically drowning in the Mediterranean for months. But it was the sheer human emotion, the public interest, and no doubt Cameron’s own compassion that made the change. Evidence and the evidence-informed discussion between officials and NGOs had nothing to do with it. More important was that a single image of a drowned boy spread to 20 million screens within 12 hours as #refugeeswelcome began trending worldwide. As research by the Visual Social Media Lab at the University of Sheffield set out, “a single image transformed the debate”.

Cairns 2


Two years later, a new Observatory of Public Attitudes to Migration has just been launched by the Florence-based Migration Policy Centreand its partners, including IPSOS Mori in the UK.  It aims to be the ‘go-to centre for researchers and practitioners’, and has sobering news for anyone who thinks that evidence has a huge influence on this issue.  Anti-migrant views, it shows, are far more driven by the values of tradition, conformity and security, and within the UK in particular, according to an IPSOS Mori study, by a distrust of experts, alongside suspicion of diversity, human rights and “political correctness”.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

International IDEA
Do Accountability Mechanisms in Safety Nets Improve Access to Social Services? The case of Brazil’s Bolsa Família

"This paper was part of International IDEA’s work on “Democracy and Development” in 2011. It was selected as a contribution to stimulate debate on and increase knowledge about the impact of democratic accountability on services. A summary of the papers selected and an analysis on some general trends are provided in “Democratic Accountability in Service Delivery: A Synthesis of Case Studies”

The study analyses a semi-governmental mechanism for accountability called social control councils. Through this mechanism beneficiaries are supposed to provide feedback on health and education services. However as beneficiaries have been heavily underrepresented in these councils and membership tends to be skewed towards the local government, they have not been able to function as intended." READ MORE

Mashable
How the Arab World Uses Facebook and Twitter

“Social media has been often touted for the role it played in the popular uprisings that have spread across the Arab world since December 2010. Despite the buzz, you may be surprised that only 0.26% of the Egyptian population, 0.1% of the Tunisian population and 0.04% of the Syrian population are active on Twitter.

Of all the countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Twitter is most popular in Kuwait, where 8.6% of the population is active users, defined as those who tweet at least once per month. Facebook’s more popular throughout the region. In its most popular country, the U.A.E., some 36.18% of the population is on Facebook.” READ MORE

Clearly not 'Rational, Calculating Welfare Maximizers'

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Sometimes you see a set of human beings in action and you say to yourself: these are far braver souls than I am. That has been my reaction to the astonishing efforts of thousands of active citizens in countries like Libya, Yemen and  Syria over the last several months. These hardy souls have kept up a struggle for a different set of governance arrangements where they live...knowing full well that each day they participate they are likely to be beaten, arrested or killed. Yet  they have kept it up, day after day, week after week, month after month. In Libya, help came from the skies above, but citizens have still had to do the heavy lifting. They still are.