Are refugees really welcome? Understanding Northern Ireland attitudes towards Syrian refugees

Cameron D Lippard, Catherine B McNamee

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In 2018, Northern Ireland (NI) government officials, journalists, and preliminary research declared that NI citizens had provided a ‘welcoming society’ to Syrian refugees settling in local communities across the country. However, this claim starkly contrasted with other reports of growing violence towards foreign-born groups, particularly Muslims, which lead to NI being identified as the ‘Race Hate Capital of Europe.’ Using the 2015 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (NILT), we problematize and empirically-test these initial conclusions about NI attitudes towards Syrian refugees by testing four prominent social theories. We first examine whether economic self-interest and social exposure (i.e., contact hypothesis) predict NI attitudes towards Syrian refugees. We also recognize NI's unique conflictual ethnic history by testing whether cultural marginality and ethnic competition theories further explain attitudes. The findings suggest that multiple theories explain NI citizen views towards Syrians. Results provide partial support for economic self-interests and direct and preferential social exposure as predictors. However, when considering racism and sectarianism measures, the results require a nuanced understanding of the context of NI people’s attitudes. We found that identity politics related to NI's citizens' religious and nationalist identity encouraged racist and sectarian disapproval of Syrian refugee resettlement. These findings provide a promising avenue of study in understanding how ethno-identities shape attitudes towards Syrian refugees and other foreign-born groups living in NI. However, we contend more granular research will be needed to highlight these nuances.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Refugee Studies
Early online date28 Feb 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 28 Feb 2021


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