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BIPR | Political Backlash to Refugee Settlement: Cultural and Economic Drivers
Political Backlash to Refugee Settlement: Cultural and Economic Drivers

February 8, 2024 - 15:30

Mariapia Mendola, Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca

Event Recap

An upsurge of anti-immigration sentiment in Italy due to the refugee crisis of 2015 spurred the research of Mariapia Mendola, professor at the University of Milan-Bicocca, assistant professors Francesco Campo and Sara Giunti, and postdoctoral researcher Giulia Tura. They were further motivated by the fact that anti-immigration attitudes have been proven to be heterogeneous across countries - what are the driving factors behind this and how can it be remedied? Between 2014 to 2018, Italy saw a stark increase in asylum applications due to the Syrian War and other turmoils in the Middle East and Northen Africa. Millions of refugees were fleeing to Europe, and Italy received on average 150,000 asylum seekers every year for five years. This took place in the middle of two national elections in the country, and Mendola noted a shift to right-wing populist parties during this time, especially those parties that were vocal about being against immigration. Some parties even adopted the slogan, "Italians first!"

Mendola explained that the Italian refugee reception system is designed in two stages. The first stage focuses on when migrants arrive in the country and require assistance and identification. This is performed at disembarkation hotspots and major governmental centers such as CARA (Centri di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo). During the crisis the second stage happened at Reception Centers for Asylum Seekers or temporary reception centers (the CAS acronym is used in Italian). CAS hosted 75 to 80 percent of refugees and their locations were decided on by economic operators without authorization of municipality administration. The majority of these centers are divided across networks of apartments and private homes. In 2017, 38 percent of municipalities had a CAS. Italy used a 'Dispersal Policy' to allocate resources for refugee centers, whereby the number of migrants allocated to each province was based on resident population (2.5 asylum seekers per 1,000 residents) with the objective of reducing the concentration of migrants and spread the 'burden' across the population.

Mendola's research looked at the underlying factors underlying the political backlash to refugee reception, i.e. local economic factors, such as labor market outcomes and tertiary education; social capital, including electoral participation in referenda and non-profit organization density; and inter-group contact, such as naturalization rate, intermarriage rate, and elected foreign administrators, to name a few. The team's results showed that more privileged municipalities harbored heightened anti-immigration sentiments as they believed the influx would lead to them being personally worse off later on. This evidence demonstrated that social capital reflects an in-group attitude rather than out-group - the higher the density of the in-group, the higher the backlash. Some indicators that combated these negative views include having a positive inter-marriage rate, foreign born administration, and a stronger naturalization rate. Despite any negative sentiments, immigration is economically beneficial for countries and also helps those with aging populations, Mendola stated. She concluded the talk by explaining that if politicians want to minimize backlash, they should seriously analyze where refugees should be resettled and how the overall situation should be handled, take care of local citizens by understanding their fear and reactions and by offering them the same services that refugees receive, and they should host regular meetings to keep everyone informed.

Political Backlash to Refugee Settlement: Cultural and Economic Drivers

hosted by Professor Anna Maria Mayda

Mariapia Mendola
Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca

Mariapia Mendola is Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics, Università di Milano Bicocca, Director of the Poverty and Development Program at Centro Studi Luca d'Agliano and Research Fellow at IZA and CefES. She is also Co-Editor of The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy.

Mendola's main research interests are in the fields of Development Economics, Household and Population Economics, and Applied Microeconomics. Her recent research work is focused on migration, human capital, culture, diversity and networks.
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