Research Seminar

Mollie Gerver: Refugee Resettlement and Adaptive Preferences

Date: 4 May 2022
Time: 14:00-15:45

Plats: Institutet för framtidsstudier, Holländargatan 13, Stockholm

Register here


Aid organizations are increasingly lobbying wealthy countries to send aid to refugees in neighboring poorer countries, rather than lobbying wealthy countries to accept more refugees for resettlement. Aid organizations sometimes defend this strategy by claiming that: 

  1. Most refugees prefer remaining in neighbouring countries.
  2. Aid organizations have good reason to try to help refugees fulfil their preferences.
  3. Therefore, aid organizations have good reason to try to help most refugees remain in neighbouring countries.

Despite the growing popularity of this argument, few have established what refugees’ preferences actually are. We draw upon an original dataset gathered in Lebanon with a representative sample of 1,750 Syrian refugees to note that, at least in this case, most refugees really do prefer remaining to resettling. However, we question the above argument’s second premise, that aid organizations have good reason to help refugees fulfil their preference. We argue that aid agencies have reason to avoid fulfilling preferences that are ``adaptive.''

Refugees hold adaptive preferences when they prefer remaining in neighbouring countries only when relocating to other countries is not an option, but would prefer locating if this option were available. We defend this normative claim, and propose an empirical method for evaluating whether preferences are adaptive: aid agencies should ask refugees to imagine having the option of resettlement, and ask them if they still prefer alternatives to this option. We argue that this method is advantageous in its ability to quickly capture adaptive preferences in an ethical manner, and apply it to the case of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We demonstrate that, though only approximately 23.5% of respondents initially said they preferred resettling, when asked to imagine having the option to resettle, the number who preferred this option more than doubled to49.7%.

The paper on which this talk is based is co-authored with Faten Ghosn (Essex) and Miranda Simon (Essex).


Join the seminar online or at the Institute for Futures Studies. If you plan to join on site, please check the box in the registration form. Register here


Previous activities and documentation