The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that, as of May 2022, more than 100 million have been forcibly displaced worldwide. This large-scale movement entails serious political and economic concerns, especially for low- and middle-income destination countries, which host about 80% of all refugees. The recent arrival of several million Ukrainians in various European countries in the wake of the Russian invasion, and the UN assessment that climate change will displace 20 million people annually (Burzynski et al. 2019), underlines that refugee movement will likely remain a major policy issue for years to come.

Unlike voluntary migration, refugee flows usually occur in large numbers and over a short period of time, causing significant disruption to many sectors of host countries and the provision of critical public services. Thus, the impact of refugees on socioeconomic outcomes in destination countries, including crime, can be significant (Baker et al. 2015). This column synthesizes the impact of refugees on crime, focusing on the case of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The Impact of Refugees on Crime: Potential Channels

Participation in criminal activity is determined by (1) expected returns from the labor market, (2) expected returns to illegal activity, and (3) deterrence variables such as likelihood of apprehension and severity of punishment. Risk avoidance and timing are also important for the decision maker.

There are two primary channels through which refugees can affect crime. First, the influx of refugees increases the supply of labor in the relevant labor market. For example, if the average human capital of refugees is lower than that of natives, and if high-skill content jobs require the ability to speak the host language (Foged et al. 2021), refugee labor is expected to increase unemployment and decrease the market for low-skilled labor. wages This effect can increase crime not only for refugees, but also for local unskilled workers who are experiencing declining labor market opportunities (Borjas et al. 2010).

Second, exposure to violence may influence the criminal activity of refugees. Recent work has identified the effects of negative life shocks and trauma on individuals’ risk preferences, time discounting, and subsequent behavior (e.g. Hanaoka et al. 2018, Voors et al. 2012, Eckel et al. 2009). There is also evidence indicating that exposure to conflict and violence can predispose individuals to become violent themselves (eg Couttenier et al. 2016, Couttenier et al. 2019, La Mattina 2017).

The implication of these two channels, summarized above, is that refugee inflows are expected to have a non-negative effect on the host country’s crime rate unless the baseline propensity for criminal activity is lower for refugees than for natives, and at the same time, refugee inflows affect the labor market. has no effect on Whether and how baseline crime rates differ between natives and immigrants is not clear a priori. Importantly, regardless of the benchmark initial crime rate for both groups, an increase in the crime rate of both natives and refugees is expected to such an extent that the increase in refugee numbers has detrimental effects on the labor market, especially for the unskilled. Labor.

There is limited work on the impact of refugees on crime. Analyzing the decline in the number of refugees admitted to the United States following President Trump’s executive order, Masterson and Yasenov (2021) found no change in crime rates in counties that reduced their refugee admissions. Of course, the annual number of refugees admitted to the United States is very small compared to the millions of refugees that other countries have received over a short period of time. Recent work has shown that refugee flows have increased crime in Germany (Gehrsitz and Ungerer 2022, Dehos 2021), Switzerland (Couttenier et al. 2019), and Greece (Megalokonomou and Vasilakis 2020). In contrast to these findings, Kayaoglu (2022) and Kirdar et al. (2022) argue that the influx of Syrian refugees leads to a decrease in crime in Turkey, although the estimates reported in these two papers are plagued by empirical problems.

In a recent paper (Akbulut-Yuksel et al. 2022), we estimated the impact of Syrian refugees on crime in Turkey. We find that the influx of refugees has a substantial positive effect on crime. To guide policy analysts who are unfamiliar with the theory and experience of the economics of crime and law and economics, we also demonstrate how using inappropriate measures of criminal activity and employing the wrong empirical model leads to misleading understandings of the refugee-crime relationship (Appendix B, Akbulut-Yuksel et al. 2022).

Figure 1 Total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey

formula: UNHCR.

Arrival of Syrian refugees in Turkey

The influx of Syrian refugees to Turkey began in early 2012 and has accelerated over time (Figure 1). The number of refugees is expected to reach 3.7 million by 2021 – about 4.5% of the country’s population. As of 2014, refugees mostly stayed close to the Turkey-Syria border for two reasons. First, there was the hope of returning to Syria once the crisis was resolved. Second, the government has built large refugee camps in border areas to provide housing and humanitarian assistance. After mid-2014, following Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, it became clear that the conflict would not end soon. As a result, the movement of refugees towards the western part of Turkey has accelerated. Figure 2 displays these movement patterns, with darker areas indicating higher refugee-to-native ratios.

Figure 2 Time variation in the regional distribution of refugees

formula: Director General of Migration Management, Ministry of Interior, Turkey.

measure of crime

The standard measure of crime is the number of crimes reported to the police, although this data is not publicly available in Turkey. However, in most countries, criminal case files handled by the police are transferred to prosecutors’ offices, and this information is available from the Turkish Ministry of Justice at the provincial level. This accurate measure of criminal activity reveals that approximately 3.3 million crimes are committed in Turkey each year, indicating a crime rate of 4,500 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants.1

The impact of Syrian refugees on crime in Turkey

We use data from each of the country’s 81 provinces between 2006 and 2016 to estimate the impact of refugees on crime. To address potential statistical confounds caused by refugee location preferences across provinces, we use a distance-based instrumental variables technique (Tumen 2021, Del Carpio and Wagner 2015). The results show that refugee arrivals increase the incidence of crime by 2% to 4.75% per year, which corresponds to approximately 75,000 to 150,000 additional crimes per year. The results are robust to extensive sensitivity analyzes and placebo exercises.

This finding does not imply that the entire increase in crime is attributable to the increase in the refugee population. Part (or all) of the increase in crime may be generated by local populations in response to changes in labor market conditions. To investigate this point further, we estimate the translog crime production function, which considers three groups, classified by education, and as independent factors influencing refugee crime. These models confirm that the refugee population is a significant determinant of criminal activity. They also reveal that low-skilled local population growth has a separate, but small, effect on crime.

Comments are final

Because developing countries are large targets of refugee flows from their low-income neighbors and because they have modest levels of human capital, the rise in criminal activity poses significant challenges for such host countries. A shift from the legal labor market to crime reduces legal human capital, increases criminal human capital, and creates path-dependency in criminal activity (Mocan and Bali 2010, Mocan et al. 2005). Therefore, an increase in crime can create a development barrier for low- and middle-income countries. The rise in crime also has implications for refugees, including increased hostility towards them which can affect their well-being directly (eg through discrimination in the labor and housing markets), and indirectly through domestic politics. Thus, as previously noted (Arendt et al. 2022), our findings highlight the need to strengthen social security systems, take steps to address impacts on the labor market, and provide assistance to the criminal justice system to mitigate its response. Massive refugee flows.


Akbulut-Yuksel, M, HN Mocan, S Tumen and B Turan (2022), “The Impact of Refugee Crime”, NBER Working Paper No. 30070.

Arendt, J, C Dustmann and H Ku (2022), “Refugee migration and the labor market: lessons from 40 years of post-arrival policy in Denmark”,, 10 April.

Becker, S, N Bloom and S Davies (2015), “Immigration fears and policy uncertainty”,, 15 December.

Borjas, GJ, J Grogger and GH Hanson (2010), “Immigration and the Economic Status of African-American Men”, economic 77: 255–282.

Burzynski, M, C Deuster, F Docquier and J de Melo (2019), “Climate change scares… Climate poverty is scary!”,, 10 December.

Couttenier, M, V Preotu, D Rohner and M Thoenig (2016), “Violence by asylum seekers: the role of homeland conflicts”,, 6 April.

Couttenier, M, V Preotu, D Rohner and M Thoenig (2019), “The Violent Legacy of Conflict: Evidence for Asylum Seekers, Crime and Public Policy in Switzerland”, American Economic Review 109: 4378-4425.

Dehos, FT (2021), “The refugee wave in Germany and its impact on crime”, Regional Science and Urban Economics 88, 103640.

Del Carpio, XV and MC Wagner (2015), “The Impact of Syrian Refugees on the Turkish Labor Market”, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper #7402.

Eckel, CC, MA El-Gamal and RK Wilson (2009), “Vulnerability After the Storm: A Bayesian-Network Study of Hurricane Katrina Evacuees”, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organizationn 69: 110–124.

Foged, M, L Hasager and G Peri (2021), “Language training and refugee success”,, 20 March.

Gehrsitz, M and M Ungerer (2022), “Jobs, crime and the vote: a short-term assessment of the refugee crisis in Germany”, economic 89: 592–626.

Hanaoka, C, H Shigeoka and Y Watanabe (2018), “Is risk preference changing? Evidence from the Great East Japan Earthquake”, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 10: 298–330.

Kayaoglu, A (2022), “Do refugees cause crime?”, Global development 154, 105858.

Kirdar, MG, IL Cruz and B Turkum (2022), “The impact of 3.6 million refugees on crime”, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 194: 568–582.

La Mattina, G. (2017), “Civil Conflict, Domestic Violence and Internal Bargaining in Post-Genocide Rwanda”, Journal of Development Economics 124: 168–198.

Masterson, D and V Yasenov (2021), “Does stopping refugee resettlement reduce crime? Proof of the US Refugee Ban”, American Political Science Review 115: 1066-1073.

Megalokonomo, R and C Vasilakis (2020), “Effects of Refugee Exposure on Criminal Activity: Evidence from the Greek Islands”, SSRN Working Paper 3566564.

Mokan, HN, SC Billups and J Overland (2005), “A Dynamic Model of Differential Human Capital and Criminal Activity”, Economica 72: 655-681.

Mokan, HN and TG Bali (2010), “Asymmetric Crime Cycles”, Review of Economics and Statistics 92: 899-911.

Tumen, S (2021), “The Impact of Refugees on Test Scores of Domestic Adolescents: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from PISA”, Journal of Development Economics 150: 102633.

Voors, MJ, EE Nillesen, P Verwimp, EH Bulte, R Lensink and DP Van Soest (2012), “Violent Conflict and Behavior: A Field Experiment in Burundi”, American Economic Review 102: 941-964.


1 In comparison, crime rates ranged from 1,500 to 2,200 in Bulgaria, Greece and Spain, 3,500 in Portugal, 4,500 in Italy, 7,000 in England and Wales and 7,500 in Germany. This variation among nations reflects differences in criminal activity as well as differences in the public’s propensity to report crime and the record-keeping practices of law enforcement authorities in each country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.