Refugee Return and Conflict: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

92 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2021 Last revised: 2 Nov 2022

See all articles by Christopher W. Blair

Christopher W. Blair

Princeton University

Austin L. Wright

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Date Written: November 1, 2022


We estimate the causal effect of a large-scale cash assistance program for refugee returnees on conflict in Afghanistan. The program led to a significant increase in repatriation. Leveraging historical returnee settlement patterns and previously unreleased combat records, we find that policy-induced refugee return had cross-cutting effects, reducing insurgent violence, but increasing social conflict. The program’s cash benefits were substantial and may have raised reservation wages in communities where returnees repatriated. Consistent with this hypothesis, policy-induced return had heterogeneous effects on insurgent violence, decreasing use of labor-intensive combat, in- creasing the lethality of capital-intensive insurgent attacks, and reducing the effectiveness of counterinsurgent bomb neutralization missions. Additionally, social capital and local institutions for dispute resolution significantly o↵set the risks of refugee return for communal violence. Our study provides the first causal evidence demonstrating the link between aid-induced refugee return and political and social conflict. These results are economically significant, highlighting unintended consequences of repatriation aid and clarifying the conditions under which refugee return a↵ects conflict. Supporting social capital and legitimate, local institutions are key antecedents for safe refugee repatriation.

Keywords: Repatriation, Refugee Return, Conflict

JEL Classification: F22, F35, F51, F52

Suggested Citation

Blair, Christopher and Wright, Austin L., Refugee Return and Conflict: Evidence from a Natural Experiment (November 1, 2022). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2021-82, Available at SSRN: or

Christopher Blair

Princeton University ( email )

Austin L. Wright (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1307 E 60th St
Chicago, IL IL 60637
United States


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