Important to understand the flow of refugees from conflicts

24 February 2021

Portrait of Margareta Sollenberg

“The question is very relevant and politicised, and there is great suffering associated with the flows of refugees”, says Margareta Sollenberg.

Hello there, Margareta Sollenberg, a researcher at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research. You were recently awarded a grant from the Swedish Research Council for the three-year project “Drivers of Displacement: Accounting for the Variation in Forced Migration from Conflict”. What will you be doing in the project?

“Huge numbers of people are on the move, over 70 million. We know many of them are fleeing some type of conflict, but we actually don’t know much more. My colleague Magnus Öberg, who is also participating in the project, was working on this question about 10 years ago. At the time, though, they didn’t have the data we have today, so they did not get very far.

The question is very relevant and politicised, and there is great suffering associated with the flows of refugees. So, we want to examine this question again and look at the nuances of the refugee flows. We know that some conflicts produce large numbers of refugees and others produce fewer, but we do not know why.  There are no simple answers, but we believe we are in a position to find answers.”

You are a peace and conflict researchers. Why are you studying refugee flows?
“I have worked a lot with conflict data over a long period of time. As a peace and conflict researcher, it is our responsibility to use our knowledge and expertise of the field where it matters most. The subject arose from a desire to understand what drives conflicts and solutions to conflicts. The consequences of the conflicts, in this case refugees, are also something that drives conflicts at the next stage. Either somewhere else or a new conflict.”

Which conflicts cause the greatest flows of refugees today?
“When I talk about refugees, I mean both refugees who have left their country and internal refugees who have fled within their country. Sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly how many internal refugees there are. Naturally, the conflict in Syria has resulted in large flows of refugees, where many have fled to other countries. Other countries with many refugees are Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are many internal refugees.”

How can this research be utilized?
“If over 70 million people are some where they do not want to be and have experienced terrible things, someone has to take responsibility for explaining it and doing something about it.

We hope that our research will help us better predict refugee flows. If so, we can better provide aid in different ways. This project also fits in other larger projects ongoing at our department.

Personally, I also hope that it will help people to better understand that many of the people fleeing are truly subjected to violence. Then there are millions of people from Afghanistan who have been fleeing violence for over 40 years.”

What does current research tell us about this subject and where is more knowledge needed?
“We know that a major conflict results in large numbers of refugees, but all major conflicts do not generate large numbers of refugees, and we do not know why that is the case. We have fragmentary knowledge, parts or main themes. We do not have the nuances we need to be able to target initiatives correctly, we are constantly surprised by the flows of refugees. We can contribute a fair amount of knowledge needed to better predict and help where it is needed.”

Agnes Loman