The Reception of Nonreligious Refugees

What can we learn about nonreligion by studying refugees?

At the end of 2022, there were over 100 million refugees globally, fleeing persecution, violence, and conflict. But what happens when refugees arrive in their host countries? In particular, we want to know how religion and nonreligion shape how refugees are received. How are the religious or nonreligious identities of refugees understood by refugee receiving institutions? Are all refugees assumed to be religious? Or do the people who work at receiving organizations consider the possibility that refugees might have nonreligious identities? Through this research, we aim to find out what nonreligious refugees need, and what those at refugees receiving organizations need to know in order to better support them. 

Alt Text

How does the research work?

We have identified refugee receiving organizations in our project countries and classified them based on their religious or nonreligious profile. We are currently conducting interviews with administrative staff at these organizations in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Norway, and the United States. 

What are we finding so far?

There is a wide difference between the countries in the character of the receiving organization. In Norway, for example, refugees may live at refugee centres for up to two years while they await responses to their claims. In Argentina, by contrast, there are no refugee centres, though there are organizations which provide support for refugees and advocate on their behalf. There is also a wide variety in whether the organizations are formally religious or nonreligious (and in some cases, it is ambiguous).  

We are still learning about how religion and nonreligion shape how refugees are received, but we can explore organizations’ attitudes toward migrants and religion by looking at what sort of food they serve (such as, do they serve halal food?) or what holidays they celebrate (do they celebrate only Christian holidays?). The religious profile of the migrants in each country looks different as well, depending on which countries they come from, and organizations can typically facilitate religious practices if needed. Nonetheless, one thing we are seeing is that nonreligion is not widely understood or considered by these organizations. 

Who is involved?