Refugee Migration and Cities

Refugee Migration and Cities: Social Institutions, Political Governance and Integration in Jordan, Turkey and Sweden (SIPGI), Co-Principal Investigator, 2019-2025


Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

The recent refugee crisis in Europe is primarily an urban phenomenon, and one that creates new economic, social and political challenges. This program investigates how urban municipalities address forced migration, considering how it not only changes the social composition of neighborhoods but also influences norms and behaviors within them. The program will implement collaborative research projects in cities hosting influxes of Syrian refugees in countries with very different policies towards migrants: Sweden, Jordan and Turkey. This program provides an infrastructure for collaboration between international scholars with expertise in migration studies, political science, and sociology in the Nordic region and the Middle East. Using innovative methods including large N surveys (6,000 respondents in each country), elite interviews, focus groups, and field experiments using virtual reality 360 video technology and face-to-face dialogues with refugees, this program investigates and analyzes the nexus between political and social institutions in shaping processes of integration and fills a critical gap in migration studies. Only 11% of applications were funded. With Andrea Spehar (Co-Principal Investigator), Josepha Wessels, Isabel Schierenbeck, Ellen Lust, and Mine Eder. Funded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet 17.7 million SEK (~2 million USD)).

Project Components in Detail:

Virtual Reality Experiment: Countries around the world have witnessed an increase in negative reactions towards migrants and refugees. This study seeks to understand how empathy works and whether it can reduce intergroup prejudice in Jordan and Sweden. The study integrates a theoretically informed conceptualization of empathy with a field experiment. Implementing this experimental design will assess if engagement with immersive virtual reality (VR), from different perspectives, changes attitudes and behaviors towards Syrian refugees. The research team will use an experimental design in which they present participants with VR 360-degree video experiences that are filmed either from: 1) a first-person refugee point of view (POV); 2) a second person host-population member POV; and the experiences describe either a 3) positive or 4) negative experience with refugee integration. The different perspectives in treatment arms 1-4 are expected to induce varying levels of parallel versus reactive empathy. The researchers will then measure the effects of differing types of empathy on prejudicial attitudes and behaviors towards refugees. The study will implement pre- and post-intervention surveys as well as engagement activities to measure changes in both attitudes and prosocial behavior towards refugees. A better understanding of empathy and its role in prosocial behavior towards outgroups among both European and Middle Eastern populations is crucial at this time to foster compassion, dialogue, and build understanding between host communities and refugees of war. The first iteration of the experiment will take place in April 2023 at Gothenburg’s International Science Festival (Vetenskapsfestivalen):

Large-n Surveys: The surveys will include batteries from the Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI), an instrument I helped to develop with Ellen Lust to gather micro-level data from communities on experiences, perceptions, and satisfaction regarding governance issues. Syrians struggle with exclusion from their host societies across multiple realms that the LGPI was created to provide insights into, including the labor market, healthcare, education, and housing. A second battery will target cross-cultural social cohesion, informed by the Immigration Policy Lab Integration Index developed at Stanford University. I am also collaborating with international scholars (Karen Feree, University of California, San Diego) and Mine Eder to develop experiments seeking to understand how host-population members and drivers of residential segregation of Syrian immigrants and the varying institutions (state, non-state, and international) these groups turn to for help with disputes.


Organized Conference: “The Interactive Role of Political and Social Institutions in the Integration of Refugees in Host Cities,” October 24-26, 2022. Funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

Participants: David McKenzie (World Bank), Ayhan Kaya (Istanbul Bigli University), Wendy Pearlman (Northwestern University), Ellen Lust (University of Gothenburg), Josepha Wessels (Malmö University), Ezgi Irgil (University of Gothenburg), Andrea Spehar (University of Gothenburg), Isabell Schierenbeck (University of Gothenburg), Kristin Fabbe (Harvard University), Ezgi Haliloğlu Kahraman (Çankaya University in Turkey), Walid Al-Khatib (Center for Strategic Studies, University of Jordan), Ayat Nashwan (Yarmouk University, Jordan), Fulya Memişoğlu (Yıldız Technical University, Turkey), Scott Williamson ( Bocconi University, Italy), Maissam Nimer (Istanbul University), Ala Alrababah (postdoctoral fellow at ETH Zurich, Switzerland) , Sule Yaylaci (postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, US), Ezgi Irgil (postdoctoral fellow at Utrikespolitiska Institutet), Oguzhan Türkoglu (postdoctoral researcher at the Hertie School in Berlin, Germany), and Ahmet Akbiyik (PhD Student Harvard Kennedy School in the US).

Kao, K. & Wessels, J. (2020). From Apathy to Empathy? The Effects of Face-to-Face Dialogue and Virtual Reality Immersion on Attitudes towards Refugees of War in Sweden, Turkey, and Jordan”. Governance and Local Development Guest Scholar Workshop with Claire Adida, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg.

Organized: “SIPGI Steering Committee,” Virtual Meeting, December 13, 2021.

Participants: David McKenzie (World Bank), Ayhan Kaya (Istanbul Bigli University), Wendy Pearlman (Northwestern University), Ellen Lust (University of Gothenburg), Josepha Wessels (Malmö University), Daniel Masterson (University of California, Santa Barbara), Ezgi Irgil (University of Gothenburg), Alexander Jung (University of Gothenburg), Andrea Spehar (University of Gothenburg), Isabell Schierenbeck (University of Gothenburg), Mine Eder (Boğaziçi University, Turkey), Joseph Anderson (University of Gothenburg)

Related Presentations:

Kao, K. (2022). “Immigrant and Refugee Incorporation in Turkey,” Panel Chair, American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Sep. 28 – Oct. 3 2021.

Spehar, A. and Kao, K. (2021). Presentations to the Youth International Think Tank at Lindholmen Visual Arena on ”Living in Europe: Work, Welfare, and Family” and “Challenges for Democracy in Post-Conflict Settings” with Q&A on migration issues, November 23.