The Perfect Storm: The Role of Public Health and Ethnic Composition in Refugee-related Conflict Initiation

Presenters: Tracy Lin and Aaron Shreve, Political Science Department, UC Davis.
Discussant: Jesse Hammond, 6th year Political Science PhD candidate.
Thursday April 23, 2015. 12:00-1:00PM

Attendees: 14 Graduate students and professors from the fields of Agricultural & Resource Economics, International Relations, Political Sciences, Sociology, Geography, and Community Development.

Tracy Lin, PhD and Aaron Shreve, a 6th year Political Science PhD candidate, examine the influence of international factors on domestic decision-making. Lin’s research examines how domestic health systems mediate the effect of international factors, such as migration, on public health. Shreve analyzes how status and prestige affect state behavior in terms of cooperation or conflict.

Lin and Shreve ask two main macro-level questions: What explains the varying effects of refugee influxes in refugee-receiving states, and why do some refugee influxes lead to conflict while others do not?

Lin used examples of Jordan/Syria and the Rwandan Genocide to demonstrate the propensity of governments to initiate conflict when an influx of refugees compromises domestic indicators such as public health. She argues that pre-existing socioeconomic conditions in the receiving state are the main influencers of state actions, not the refugees themselves. Using two hypotheses related to the pre-existing conditions of public health and ethnic homogeneity, and two alternative hypotheses dealing with pre-existing conflict and economic hardship in receiving states, Lin sets the parameters for analysis.

The results suggest that both hypotheses are supported by the data. Pre-existing conflict was exacerbated by an influx of refugees, but poor economic conditions in the refugee-receiving state was not. However, the measure of economic conditions was macro, while refugees entered specific regions, creating scalar discrepancies and limiting the validity of this conclusion.

Discussant Jesse Hammond noted that the paper fills voids in refugee research, which tends to concentrate on the characteristics of the refugees as main influencers of conflict initiation rather than the structural characteristics of the receiving states. Hammond asked why domestic policy changes in the receiving states were not included in the theoretical framework, including policies such as encouraging the departure of refugees initiating international conflict or closing borders. He also suggested improved measures of ethnic homogeneity to define dominant ethnic group not by numbers but rather by political power, since "size is not the same as salience." Other suggestions would be to include all relevant variables; since the model already had 12, more would not affect its reliability.

Questions from the floor included definitions of "inadequate" and "poor" health care systems,  model design decisions, such as the region of conflict affected by conditions outside the dyad (spillover conflict effects), and the cost of vaccinations.

Lin and Shreve responded that they were not really committed to the economic argument most economic information is at the micro level and their focus is on macro health and ethnic composition variables. In terms of model design, the appendix includes all variables – and the idea was to keep the model consistent with previously published work. Lin and Shreve argue that vaccination rates are common proxies of public health status and AIDS/HIV rates are a measure of pre-existing socioeconomic conditions. Lin and Shreve believe that group size is a reliable variable; they considered Social Identity Theory but they chose "Ethnicity as intergroup relation" theory.