Refugee, IDP and host community radicalisation


What makes people affected by armed conflict, in particular IDPs, refugees and their hosts, become radicalised? How does humanitarian aid contribute or not? With a particular reference to the Middle East.


Socioeconomic conditions: In some circumstances, poor socioeconomic conditions (e.g. impoverishment, unemployment, lack of access to services and infrastructure, overcrowded living conditions) may make it more likely for refugees/IDPs to become radicalised. However, Lischer (2005) finds instead that there is generally little evidence to support the connection between particular socioeconomic conditions and refugee violence.

Political factors include:

  • Voice and grievance mechanisms: lack of outlets for the peaceful expression of refugee/IDP voices and their exclusion from political processes may encourage violence.
  • Circumstances of expulsion: Persecuted refugees are more vulnerable to propaganda and manipulation than are situational refugees. State-in-exile refugees (e.g. Rwandan Hutus in Zaire; Afghans in Pakistan) are the most likely to engage in military violence as an extension of pre-existing conflict.
  • Host capability and will: where the capability and will of receiving states to secure borders and demilitarise refugees are both high, the risk of refugee/IDP violence should be lower; where capability and will are low, conflict and the misuse of humanitarian aid as a tool of war is likely.

Impact on host communities: Refugees/displaced persons have the potential to destabilise host communities – e.g. directly by participating in attacks; indirectly by changing the demographic (ethnic or sectarian) composition of host communities; and indirectly by imposing a heavy economic and social burden on local communities.

Protracted situations: Over time, refugees can develop into a highly organised and militant state-in-exile. In addition, protracted situations result in increasing feelings of hopelessness and desperation among refugees/displaced persons. Further, host societies are likely to become less hospitable the longer a refugee/IDP crisis lasts.

Geographic factors and camp design: There are concerns that the establishment of refugee/IDP camps in some situations can undermine security, particularly if they become organised along sectarian lines.

External factors: Aid can exacerbate conflict by feeding militants; sustaining and protecting the militants’ supporters; contributing to the war economy; and providing legitimacy to combatants. Donor states can contribute to security by providing resources to receiving states that may be incapable of preventing the militarisation of refugees/IDPs. In other cases, external actors may actively support militant activity by refugees.