Major European research project focuses on 2015 refugee crisis

Andreas Önver Cetrez, Senior Lecturer in Psychology of Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Scholarly Coordinator of the project.

What can we learn from the European Union’s management of the refugee crisis that started in 2015? Was the crisis a matter of refugees or rather a question of the EU’s internal borders, political polarisation and lack of crisis management? A major research project in the European Union, coordinated from Uppsala University, poses this question.

The research project known as “RESPOND – Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond” will study refugee management in the EU based on empirical data in eight European countries and three countries outside Europe. The starting point for the research project is the refugee crisis that arose in the European Union in 2015, triggering what may be the EU’s biggest challenge since its formation.

“The EU countries were not in agreement and continue to not be in agreement on how to respond to and deal with the refugee issue. Different countries have different approaches, the refugees are handled differently and the EU cannot force member states to receive what are known as relocated refugees,” says Andreas Önver Cetrez, Senior Lecturer in Psychology of Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Scholarly Coordinator of the project.

What is refugee management like in the EU?

“The reception and management of refugees is strongly polarised in the EU. At some border crossings there are problems with abuse and physical violence, refugees’ rights are not respected and access to health care and job opportunities varies,” says Cetrez. “The aim of the research project is to understand what characterises refugee management in each country, how migration control works at different levels in each country and what differentiates the various countries.”

The project focuses on refugees who have come by way of the eastern Mediterranean, especially refugees who fled because of the civil war in Syria. Researchers are studying the situation in refugees’ countries of origin, transit countries and destination countries based on different parts of the process, with each part being studied on three different levels: the refugees’ own experiences, the local level and the national level.

“The core is the steps that can be said to represent the refugee’s personal journey and story: the situation in the country of origin; border and migration controls during the journey; rights and protection of refugees; and reception and integration in the new country,” says Cetrez.

“As a closing theme, we are studying what effect this has on European integration and the development of populism in almost all European countries,” says Soner Barthoma, project coordinator.

The perception of integration and practical integration efforts differs greatly among countries and gives rise to many questions, both about how systems are intended to work and how they are perceived by the refugees themselves.

“What opportunities and constraints do refugees encounter in terms of housing, education, employment and access to health care?” Cetrez asks. “How will the refugees be integrated into society and how will they experience being part of society? What opportunities for citizenship are available to them in the different countries? These are some of the questions we ask in the project. The perception of the refugee as a victim and beneficiary of support also needs to be challenged. We want to change this perspective, to view the refugee as a person with resources, networks and the capacity to carry out a journey and to help develop the refugee’s new homeland. The refuge then becomes a carrier and intermediary of new knowledge,” Cetrez adds.

Interviews with refugees and actors

The researchers are interviewing about 60 refugees per country. “We want to listen to their personal experiences and relate them to the policy and implementation level in each country,” says Cetrez.

At the local level, the researchers will interview about 15 additional organisations and agencies to examine how they work in practice with refugees. At the national level, they will study how laws and policies are implemented in each country.

“Then we make comparisons among the country reports of comparable aspects and highlight what is unique and distinctive for different countries. We present the results in the form of comparative and thematic reports,” says Cetrez.

The project also includes a major survey among 800 refugees in Sweden and Turkey. “By supplementing the interviews with a large questionnaire in which we ask about the refugees’ experiences, values and attitudes, we can amplify the individual stories with more comprehensive data,” says Cetrez.

Practical use of the research

The researchers will also provide policy recommendations for further work with refugees. “We want the research to be applied in a practical way and to become useful for politicians, organisations and public authorities,” says Cetrez.



The research project known as “RESPOND – Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond” is being financed by EU Horizon 2020 from December 2017 to November 2019. It has a budget of more than 3 million euros and is coordinated by the Uppsala Religion and Society Research Centre at the Faculty of Theology, Uppsala University.

The study is based on empirical data from eight European countries and three countries outside Europe: Greece, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Poland, United Kingdom, Sweden, Turkey, Germany, Hungary and Austria.

RESPOND consists of the following research areas:

  • Legal & policy framework
  • Border management & migration controls
  • Refugee protection regimes
  • Mapping and assessing reception policies
  • Integration policies, practices and responses
  • Conflicting Europeanisation
  • Longitudinal survey analysis
  • Comparative and prescriptive analysis

The project includes the following partners:

Uppsala University, Göttingen University, Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Cambridge, Istanbul Bilgi University, Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, Özyegin University, University of Florence, University of the Aegean, Institute for Urban and Regional Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, University of Warsaw, University of Copenhagen, Lebanon Support, Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation, Iraq

About 15 reports have been published within the project, including all country reports in the first research area, “Legal & policy framework”.

15 January 2019

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Last modified: 2022-12-22