This study assesses whether Syrian refugees intend to return to Syria, taking account of the economic, cultural and institutional differences between their country of origin and the host country. We develop a simple theoretical model on return migration and optimal duration of stay in the host country to identify the potential trade-offs faced by refugees. We then assess the theoretical predictions empirically with a sample of 577 Syrian refugees living in Germany and Turkey. Three return scenarios are considered: (i) ever returning, (ii) returning when it is as safe in Syria as before the war, and (iii) returning within two years. Refugees in the immediately neighbouring country of Turkey are more likely to regard their stay as temporary (76%) compared to those who fled to geographically more distant Germany (55%, p-value of difference=0.000). Concerning the correlates of intended return, we observe that socio-demographic and economic characteristics tend to have limited predictive power for re-migration intentions, independent of the host country. Similarly, while refugees value freedom of speech and belief, the existence of these liberties does not feed into the return migration decision in either of the host countries. Thus, attempts to impose these values on the Assad Government are unlikely to trigger mass return movement. From a policy perspective, we analyse whether random exposure to positive or negative information regarding return migration impacts on the refugees’ intentions. We find no systematic impact on the decision to migrate back. This demonstrates that host governments cannot expect (rapid) information disseminated by refugee agencies – even if it provides support – to impact the refugees’ decision making about return. Overall, the analysis suggests that neither proximate nor distant host countries should bank on the speedy return of the Syrian refugees but should focus on refugee integration, independently of how long they intend to stay.

, , ,
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Al Husein, N, & Wagner, N. (2020). Determinants of intended return migration among refugees : A comparison of Syrian refugees in Germany and Turkey. ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 659). Retrieved from