Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Investigating the interactions between civil wars and migration.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MIGWAR (Investigating the interactions between civil wars and migration.)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-09-30

Poor countries are often plagued by civil wars. They are also often emigration countries. Anybody interested in the development of such countries must understand how these phenomena interplay with each other. Based on case studies such as those of Erytrea or of Sri Lanka, the qualitative literature underlines the role played by diasporas on the evolution of violence in their home country, either as peace-builders or as peace-wreckers. Yet, the interactions between diasporas and conflict have roughly been overlooked by the economic literature, despite the crucial policy questions that it raises – in particular, how to optimize the diasporas’ contribution to peaceful development. This project aims at investigating the joint dynamics of civil wars and migration in developing countries. It articulates two axes, which respectively consist in a theoretical and in an empirical approach of the diasporas – conflict nexus.

The first axis builds a theoretical framework to characterize how diasporas and civil wars interact together, accounting for the endogeneity of migration and violence. The model shows that diasporas tend to support their groups’ war effort in the homeland through financial contributions, but that this does not always translate into more violence, as a reinforced strike force of migrants’ group of origin can deter its rivals to go to war. In relation with the case studies documented by the qualitative literature, the model allows to understand why, in some cases, diasporas have fueled conflict at home, while in other contexts they have not, in spite of their intent to do so, and while in others they have favored peace.

The second axis develops an empirical strategy disaggregated at the level of the actors of civil conflicts, to test the theoretical predictions of the model. Recent, original data on refugees by ethnic groups are matched with violent-event data which inform the ethnic attachment of insurgent groups. On average, the size of refugee outflows is negatively associated with the intensity of violence involving their ethnic group in the homeland, which points to a peace-building effect of refugees. As predicted by the theory, this relationship is heterogeneous across certain country- and group-level characteristics. In particular, refugee flows are more likely to be associated with a de-escalation of violence in poor, small countries, with an important recent history of violence.
The project first required reaching a state-of-art knowledge of the conflict literature and investigating the qualitative literature dedicated to case studies. Then, we built a theoretical model in which two groups contest a resource in the country of origin, while one of them is related to an exongeous diaspora abroad. We first find that above a certain size, the diaspora financially contributes to the war effort of its group, because migrants, who are interested in the conflict’s outcome, do not directly bear its costs. Second, we assume that, given the expected conflict outcome, the two groups of residents can negotiate peace if this makes them both better off than war. Although a larger diaspora translates into a larger contribution to the war effort, this does not systematically means more chances of war. The induced increased relative strike force of the group of origin can deter its rival group to go to war, and make negotiation more likely. A diaspora can thus play either a peace-building or a peace-wrecking role. We finally identify country- and diaspora-level characteristics which determine whether a diaspora is more likely to act as a peace-building or –wrecking force.

We tested the robustness of the results to different assumptions, and developed two extensions of the model to account for (i) the endogeneity of migration and (ii) the possibility of two co-existing diasporas. Finally, we use this theoretical framework to go back to the case studies and enlighten why some diasporas had a peace-wrecking role, while others did not manage to trigger war, and others pushed favored peace. To date, this work led to the publication of discussion papers in three different series and to numerous participations in international conferences.

The second axis of the project empirically analyzes the role of refugees on conflict at home. We adopted a group-level approach, employing recent data on refugees (Vogt et al., 2015) and on violent events (Sundberg and Melander, 2013). We merged these datasets by associating violent events involving ethnicity-based insurgent groups with the outflows of refugees of the same ethnic background. This allows us to investigate the relationship between refugee flows by ethnic group and the intensity of violence involving their ethnic group in the homeland, controlling for a myriad of potential confounders. The estimated correlation turns out to be robustly negative, pointing out the peace-building potential of refugees.

Consistent with the theory, we find a heterogeneous correlation between violence and refugee flows, which are more likely to be favor a de-escalation of violence in poor, small countries, with an important recent history of violence. We also explore the sensitivity of our results to alternative samples of study, notably accounting for insurgent groups with multiple ethnic attachments. This research has yielded a working paper which will soon be diffused through discussion paper series and conference presentations.
The relationship between migration and development is a matter of interest for scholars, development practitioners and international organizations. A recent strand of the academic literature tackles the political implications of migration, and shows that migrants can play an important role in the political dimension of development. Yet, while anecdotal evidence, documented by a rich qualitative literature, attests to the role that some diasporic groups have played in conflicts at home – for instance in the African East Horn or in Sri Lanka – the quantitative literature has not considered violence as a potential outcome affected by diasporas to date.

This project brings a highly innovative contribution by documenting migrants’ role in the dynamics of conflict in their homeland and investigating under which conditions diasporas facilitate or endanger conflict resolution. Relying on various economic tools, mobilizing original approaches, and making the most of multi-disciplinary contributions, it lies at the frontier of development economics, political economy, and economics of migration. While, since 2015, growing numbers of asylum-seekers reaching Europe have turned even more the international community’s attention toward the causes and consequences of migration, the timeliness of the project is particularly appropriate. The results, highlighting the complexity and heterogeneity of the relationship between diasporas and conflict, should enlighten policy-oriented debates on the management of migrant and refugee inflows and outflows. Certain circumstances, linked to both the home and the host countries (for instance, migration costs) appear determinant of whether diasporas have a peace-wrecking or a peace-building potential. This emphasizes the importance of articulating migration policies with development and peace-building policies, so as to make it possible for potentially peace-building diasporas to fulfil their potential.
"Illustrative image on the website of our workshop on ""Miration&Conflict"""