Refugees in Towns

Supporting integration of refugees and hosts


The Refugees in Towns project (RIT) promotes understanding of the migrant/refugee experience by drawing on the knowledge and perspectives of refugees themselves as well as local hosts, and working with them to develop case studies and reports of the towns in which they live. The project was conceived and is led by Karen Jacobsen, and is based at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University. It is funded by the Henry J. Leir Foundation.

Our goals are twofold

1. First, by gathering a range of case studies and reports we are amassing a global data base that will help us analyze and understand the process of immigrant/refugee integration. The cases reveal global differences and similarities in the factors that enable and obstruct integration, and the different ways in which migrants and hosts co-exist, adapt, and struggle with integration.  We draw our cases from towns in resettlement countries (e.g. the United States); transit countries (e.g. Greece), and countries of first asylum (e.g. Lebanon). Our long-term goal is to build a global theory of integration.

2. Second, the RIT project seeks to support community leaders, aid organizations, and local governments in shaping policy, practice, and interventions. We engage policymakers and community leaders through town visits, workshops, conferences, and participatory research that identifies needs in their communities, encourages dialogue on integration, and shares good practices and lessons learned.

Why now?

The United States is undergoing a shift in its refugee policies through travel bans and the suspension of parts of its refugee program. Towns across the U.S. are responding differently: some are resisting national policy changes by declaring themselves to be “sanctuary cities," while others are supporting travel bans and exclusionary policies.  In this period of social and political change, we need deeper understanding of integration and the ways in which refugees/migrants and their hosts interact.  We think that local perspectives on these processes are not well represented in the scholarship on integration. Our RIT project seeks to draw on – and give voice to - the perspectives of both refugees' and hosts in their experiences with integration in the United States and around the world.

For more information, you are encouraged to read the latest article on the RIT project by Prof. Karen Jacobsen:

"Refugees in towns: experiences of integration," Forced Migration Review Issue 56.

Case Reports

Each of RIT's cases are specific to their local context and the reflexive experiences of the case's participants, while also addressing three cross-cutting themes:

  1. Mapping the refugee population - including the distribution and size of different refugee nationalities in the town, clustering or distribution in space, changes in spatial organization over time, and transnational networks that extend beyond the immediate town or neighborhood.

  2. The urban impact - including the economic impact (if any) of refugee communities, changes to the job market or housing market, social and political effects, changes to quality of public services like hospitals and schools, how locals perceive and interact with refugees, how other migrant populations perceive and interact with refugees, and how governments have responded to refugees.

  3. The refugee experience - including refugees’ sources of income and support,  financial obligations, political activity, self-definitions of integration, factors considered important in enabling or preventing integration, attitudes toward the future, and development of social networks over time, both with other refugees and with hosts.

The RIT Team

  • Principal Investigator Prof. Karen Jacobsen has built the RIT project on her 25+ years of internationally-recognized expertise in the field of forced migration.

  • Program Administrator Charles Simpson draws on managerial and field experience with transnational forced migration research projects in the Middle East, the Balkans, and Western Europe.

  • A range of experts make up the RIT Advisory Group, which provides guidance, review and regional expertise.

  • Our case study researchers and writers include refugees and practitioners who provide our localized perspectives on refugee-hosting communities around the world. Case study researchers and writeres also link us to aid organizations, refugee community organizations and municipal governments.