Panel Paper: The Effects of Refugees on Social Cohesion in Local Communities: The Case of Congolese Refugees in Rwanda

Friday, July 14, 2017 : 12:10 PM
Serenity (Crowne Plaza Brussels - Le Palace)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Veronika Fajth, Maastricht University
This paper investigates the social impact of refugee presence for host communities in the context of Congolese refugees on Rwanda through a mixed-method approach. Using a new dataset originating from a UNHCR-commissioned research project, we take a quantitative methods approach based on household survey data collected in host communities surrounding three refugee camps (Gihembe, Kigeme and Kiziba). To assess social cohesion, we look across a range of related outcomes, including perceptions of safety, formal and informal social networks, and trust measures regarding own-community, refugees, and international organizations and NGOs. We assess the impact of refugee presence by comparing these outcomes for local households (N = 933) at a short (10 km) and at a long (20 km) distance from refugee camps through logit regressions. Generally speaking, we observe no statistically significant difference between short and long distance host communities in outcomes related to feelings of safety, formal networks, and trust indicators. ‘Informal networks’ is the one outcome for which living in proximity of a refugee camp is associated with significantly higher odds. Including results from focus group interviews, we find that time and increased exposure, as well as business interactions help increase trust between the two groups. In addition, interviews highlight the perception among locals that aid given to refugees plays a key role in reducing and preventing conflict between the two groups and minimize potential crimes by refugees. These findings can be valuable lessons for refugee host countries trying to minimize adverse social effects on already vulnerable local populations and achieve a cohesive society.