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UA professors receive $1.4 million grant to study motive and movement of refugees

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Carolyn Cole and Carolyn Cole and CAROLYN COLE and CAROLYN COLE | Los Angeles Times

Border Patrol agents patrol the Rio Grande River near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Two UA professors have received almost $1.4 million in a Minerva Initiative grant from the Department of Defense to conduct a three-year research project examining “Refugee Flows and Instability.”

Alex Braithwaite, associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy, and Faten Ghosn, associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy and the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies will conduct their research in conjunction with Shane Johnson, deputy head of the University College of London’s Department of Security and Crime Science.

The Syrian Civil War and the conflict’s refugees have become a politicized topic in the United States. President Donald Trump’s now halted travel ban barred any from entering the country.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.”

“In general, we are investigating why do refugees flee, where do they go and what impact do they have on the areas they move to,” Ghosn said.

The project will be divided into three components, each managed by a member of the team. The majority, 60 percent, of the funding will remain at the UA while 40 percent will go to UCL.

The money will be used to bring on graduate students and others to help conduct the research.

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Ghosn will travel to Lebanon to interview 4,500 individuals, Lebanese government officials and international agencies involved with refugees.

She plans to give a survey to 2,500 former Lebanese refugees and 2,000 Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon.

Ghosn plans to study how an individual’s social network contributes to their decision to flee. She said the decision of a mayor or prominent figure to flee may explain why some villages in close proximity saw residents flee while others did not.

When talking to government officials, Ghosn plans to ask what policies they believe are needed and which have worked well when addressing the implications of massive influxes of refugees in Lebanon.

Lebanon is the perfect place to conduct the survey because their 4.5 million civilians contain a number of former refugees from the Lebanese Civil War and their country supports 1.5 million Syrian refugees fleeing the violence.

“My team will be collating existing data on global refugee flows between all countries and then collecting our own data on the subnational location of refugee populations globally,” Braithwaite said in an email.

Braithwaite will collect data on refugee movements from the years 1990 to 2015 or from the ending of the Lebanese Civil War through the start of the Syrian Civil War.

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As principal investigator, Braithwaite will manage the project and report results to the government.

Johnson will use the data obtained by Braithwaite and Ghosn to produce probability and forecasting models.

“We have over 65 million people considered refugees, displaced and asylum seekers and it is creating a global security issue,” Ghosn said.

She hopes the research project helps fill the gaps in information about refugees and positively contribute context to the ongoing policy debate surrounding refugees.

Braithwaite added the project will examine “whether refugees are perpetrators or (more likely) victims of violence in their host countries.”

Ghosn believes the U.S. government helped fund the research because of the potential impact of humanitarian crises on their allies and interest beyond U.S. borders.

Minerva Research Initiative promotes international collaboration on research focused on US security. Ghosn believes the project falls under one of Minerva’s broad topics of interest dealing with social mobility and decision making.

Ghosn hopes the project’s holistic approach to their general questions will help fill in the puzzle and gaps in knowledge surrounding refugees fleeing their homes around the world and the resulting policy debates.


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