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The Long-Term Impacts of Forced Displacement

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The Long-Term Impacts of Forced Displacement

History teaches us that a high fraction of refugees fleeing war and persecution end up settling permanently in the countries they emigrate to. As Ukrainian refugees flee their homeland for different parts of Europe, Rinchan Ali Mirza offers European governments some insights from history on the potential long-term effects permanent refugee settlement could have in their respective countries.

History provides an important laboratory to examine the long-term impact of conflict-induced migration. In this post, I use the Partition of British India in 1947 to understand the long-term impacts of permanent refugee settlement in recipient countries.

The Partition of British India into the two separate states of India and Pakistan represents one of the largest episodes of mass refugee migration in recorded history. It had profound long-term consequences for the three countries involved – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Khwaja et al. (2015) show that areas that experienced greater refugee inflows saw an improvement in their overall literacy rate, an increase in their urbanisation rate and a shift towards non-agricultural occupations in the period immediately following the Partition. They attribute these effects to the higher educational level of the refugees and to their disproportionate entry into non-agricultural professions in urban areas. This suggests that it is individuals who have a higher level of human capital and who are more inclined towards skill-intensive occupations who form the bulk of refugees fleeing war and persecution.

In our recent work (Bharadwaj and Mirza, 2019), Prashant Bharadwaj and I show that the settlement of Partition refugees led to a long-term improvement in agricultural productivity of areas across India. Again, they argue that it was the higher human capital of the refugees themselves that made them better cultivators, thereby causing permanent agricultural productivity improvements in the areas in which they settled.

In my forthcoming paper (Mirza, 2022), I examine the long-run impacts of the Partition on the political and economic trajectory of Pakistan. I show that areas more affected by refugee inflows experienced a long-term improvement in their overall literacy rate and saw an immediate shift in their occupational structure towards non-agricultural professions that persisted throughout the post-Partition period. Additionally, I show that the higher human capital and better organisational capabilities of the refugees also caused a long-term increase in the political competitiveness of the areas in which they settled.

All these studies suggest that current Ukrainian refugees moving to different parts of Europe could have a profound and positive long-term impact on the social, economic, and political fabric of their recipient countries.

Rinchan Ali Mirza, University of Kent