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Adaptation of refugees may depend on their perception of the hosting society’s desire for contact

A study conducted at the Center for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte) indicates that the refugees’ perception of the hosting society‘s desire for contact was linked to their psychological and sociocultural adaptation.

© 2019 Maria Teneva | Unsplash


History has shown us that people may be forced from their homes by conflict, persecution, or other humanitarian crisis, which may lead to overwhelming fluxes of migrations and refugees. The UN Refugee Agency has identified several refugee emergencies, such as the one in Syria or the most recent in Ukraine. According to the UN Refugee Agency and the website ourworldindata.org, Turkey is hosting the highest number of refugees in the world (almost 4 million) with a dramatically high ratio of the number of refugees to the general population, quite the opposite of the low ratios in Portugal.


In a study conducted at CIS-Iscte, researchers explored the adaptation of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Their interest was examining how perceived acculturation orientations and perceived discrimination were related to Syrian refugees' psychological and sociocultural adaptation. This study was authored by Imge Terzi (CIS-Iscte), Rita Guerra (CIS-Iscte), and Kinga Bierwiaczonek (University of Oslo). It was recently published as a chapter in the book Examining Complex Intergroup Relations: Through the Lens of Turkey.


"The process of cultural and psychological change that occurs as a result of contact between different cultural groups and their members is called acculturation, and several theoretical models have been developed to explain it",

clarifies Imge Terzi, the first author of this study and currently a doctoral student at Iscte-University Institute of Lisbon. The researchers followed the “Concordance Model of Acculturation”, which highlights the importance of considering the dynamic relations of the perceived acculturation orientations of the minority group and those of the hosting society. Imge explains that “refugees may have or may not have the desire for contact with the host society and may want or may not want to maintain their own culture, the same for host society members regarding their preferences of minorities’ acculturation process". She also highlights that more important than each group's preference or orientation "is the match or mismatch of these orientations, with poorer intergroup relations and outcomes being associated with a mismatch or discordance between what each group desires and what it thinks is desired by the other”.


A hundred and nine Syrian refugees living in Turkey were inquired about their acculturation orientations and their perception of the host society members’ preference of their acculturation orientations, perceived discrimination, sociocultural adaptation, and psychological adaptation. The results showed that a stronger desire for culture maintenance was associated with lower psychological adaptation, with no link between the desire for contact and sociocultural adaptation. Moreover, when refugees perceived Turkish society as more open for contact, they reported higher psychological and sociocultural adaptation levels. Finally, when refugees reported a mismatch between their acculturation orientations and the ones they perceived to be those of Turkish society, they reported lower psychological and sociocultural adaptation levels and higher levels of perceived discrimination.


As reported by the authors, these findings highlight the critical role of perceived acculturation orientations, supporting the importance of considering a mutual approach to the acculturation process among refugees. An important implication is the crucial positive role of perceived desire for contact for Syrian refugees’ adaptation, highlighting the possible beneficial impact of host society members’ attitudes towards the minority group and their adaptation process. This finding also underlines the importance of interventions to strengthen and reinforce communication and contact between refugees and host society members.


According to Imge, this dynamic approach to the acculturation process may also be relevant to other ethnic and minority groups' beyond refugees, being essential to consider it when migrants and refugees arrive in a new cultural environment. Regarding the welcoming of Ukraninan refugees all over Europe following the recent war, she adds that "it would be beneficial to consider this mutual, dynamic approach to acculturation when aiming to promote their psychological and sociocultural adaptation". In her PhD project, Imge is currently examining the acculturation and adaptation of different refugee groups in Turkey and Portugal.


Note: This article was also published in Portuguese in Associação Portuguesa de Imprensa and among several regional media:

Notícias nos media (Terzi et al)
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