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There’s no real link between immigration and terrorism, study finds

Refugees and migrants wait for the procedures at a registration and hospitality center, know as a hotspot, on the eastern Greek island of Chios, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Today in the West, it seems almost impossible to have a conversation about migration without also talking about terrorism.

The U.S. presidential campaign is stalked by the question of immigration -- and the threats of Islamist infiltration that comes with it. Some candidates, including Republican front-runner Donald Trump, even signaled their intent to stop the arrival of all Muslims in order to safeguard the homeland. In conservative media, footage of migrants in Morocco scaling a Spanish border fence was used to illustrate supposed parallel dangers along the U.S.-Mexican border.

In Europe, as an influx of refugees made its way into the continent in 2015, many leading right-wing politicians sounded the warning of a Muslim invasion and called for the need to thin out the flows of migrants.

"There is a clear link between illegal migrants coming to Europe and the spread of terrorism," trumpeted Hungarian Prime Minister Orban last summer. Orban, whose country was in a sense on the frontlines of the exodus of Syrian refugees into Europe, frequently grandstanded on the civilizational threat posed by their arrival.

The Paris terror attacks in November cemented this perception, even though the identified jihadist assailants were European nationals. The rhetoric of Orban and others has set the tone in a bitter, polarized conversation.

But there's nothing inevitable about the arrival of foreigners leading to extremist violence, as a new academic study shows.

The paper -- "Does Immigration Induce Terrorism?" -- was published this week in the University of Chicago's Journal of Politics. As a precis of the study explains, the researchers gauged the level of risk using three decades worth of "data on migration inflows from the World Bank, weighted by the number of terrorist attacks in the country of origin of the immigrants."

While they did find some correlation between the instability caused by a refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism, this smaller and far more temporary phenomenon should be seen alongside the overwhelming proof of history.

"When migrants move from one country to another, they carry skills, knowledge and perspectives, which stimulate technological innovation, the diffusion of new ideas and economic growth," writes Vincenzo Bove, an associate professor of politics at the University of Warwick in Britain and the lead author of the study, in an email to WorldViews.

"If terrorism and economic development are indeed related more migration decreases the opportunity for terrorism.  So banning all inflows of migrants and pursuing overly restrictive policies affecting all immigrants seems to put a country at a disadvantage," Bove writes.

This seems an intuitive, obvious point, but it's gone missing in the current moment. The study also stresses the extent to which terrorist organizations exploit the vulnerabilities of immigrant communities and migrant networks back home. Enacting broad-brush, heavy-handed immigration measures would perhaps only make these now-demonized communities more prone to radicalization.

You can read more about their research here.

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