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Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture 2023 | Discrimination and Delegation: Explaining State Responses to Refugees

Speaker: Dr Lamis E Abdelaaty (Associate Professor of Political Science, Syracuse University)

Wednesday 15 November 2023


The lecture

What explains state responses to the refugees they receive? Discrimination and Delegation identifies two puzzling patterns: states open their borders to some refugee groups while blocking others (discrimination), and a number of countries have given the UN control of asylum procedures and refugee camps on their territory (delegation). To explain this selective exercise of sovereignty, the book develops a two-part theoretical framework in which policymakers in refugee-receiving countries weigh international and domestic concerns. Internationally, leaders use refugees in order to reassure allies and exert pressure on rivals. Domestically, policymakers have incentives to favor those refugee groups with whom they share an ethnic identity. When these international and domestic incentives conflict, shifting responsibility to the UN allows policymakers to placate both refugee-sending countries and domestic constituencies. The book then carries out a “three-stage, multi-level” research design in which each successive step corroborates and elaborates the findings of the preceding stage. The first stage involves statistical analysis of asylum admissions worldwide. The second stage presents two country case studies: Egypt (a country that is broadly representative of most refugee recipients) and Turkey (an outlier that has limited the geographic application of the Refugee Convention). The third stage zooms in on sub- or within-country dynamics in Kenya (home to one of the largest refugee populations in the world) through content analysis of parliamentary proceedings. Studying state responses to refugees is instructive because it can help explain why states sometimes assert, and at other times cede, their sovereignty in the face of refugee rights.

The speaker

Lamis E. Abdelaaty is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She holds a PhD in Politics from Princeton University.

Her research deals with refugees in international relations. Her first book, Discrimination and Delegation: Explaining State Responses to Refugees (Oxford University Press, 2021), was awarded the Best Book Prize from the Migration and Citizenship section of the American Political Science Association, and the Distinguished Book Prize from the Ethnicity, Nationalism, & Migration Studies section of the International Studies Association. Previously, she received the Migration and Citizenship section’s Best Dissertation Award and was named an Emerging Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.

Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the Gerda Henkel Foundation. Her articles have appeared in American Political Science ReviewAnnual Review of Sociology, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and other journals. She has also written for general readers in The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage.

She is an associate editor at the Journal of Refugee Studies and a host of the political science podcast channel of the New Books Network, among other service roles.