The Determinants of Assistance to Ukrainian and Syrian Refugees: Evidence from a Nationally-Representative Survey in Poland

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine displaced millions of people, resulting in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since WWII. Poland’s warm welcome of Ukrainian refugees contrasts sharply with its refusal to accommodate a much smaller number of Syrians in 2015. What explains this disparity in the treatment of Ukrainians and Syrians? What type of individuals help refugees and what type of refugees are most likely to be helped?

Volha Charnysh presents the results of an original nationally-representative survey conducted in the fall of 2022 in Poland, in collaboration with L. Peisakhin, N. Stoop, and P. van der Windt). The survey asked 2,500 respondents about their previous and future assistance to Ukrainian and Syrian refugees. Empathy came out as a key predictor of assistance. More empathetic individuals were more likely to assist Syrians and Ukrainians alike and donated greater amounts to refugee-oriented charities. In a conjoint experiment, although respondents manifested bias against Muslims and were more accepting of culturally similar refugees, they were also moved by perceived humanitarian need. Refugees with more vulnerable profiles – a young single mother with a child, a poor cleaner, and an individual who lost a relative in the war – were more likely to be helped, regardless of their skin color, nationality, or religion. Thus, assistance to refugees increased with traits that are considered undesirable in voluntary migrants, such as low income, lack of occupational skills, and the presence of dependents. Neither exposure to graphic accounts about refugee suffering nor reminders of the shared experience of violence and displacement affected helping behavior.

Volha Charnysh is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at MIT and an Affiliate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University in May 2017. Her book project, Uprooted: How post- WWII Population Transfers Remade Europe, examines the long-run effects of forced migration in the aftermath of World War II in Poland and West Germany, synthesizing several decades of micro-level data collected during a year of fieldwork. Her other work examines the legacies of wartime violence and repression, the role of identity in state-building and economic development, and the intergenerational persistence of political attitudes and behavior. Her academic work has appeared in the American Political Science Review, British Journal of Political Science, Annual Review of Political Science, World Politics, Comparative Political Studies, and other social science journals. She serves on the editorial board of and is a regular contributor to  Broadstreet Blog , dedicated to interdisciplinary research of historical political economy. She is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Historical Political Economy (JHPE).


Feb 16 2023


4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

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  • Timezone: America/New_York
  • Date: Feb 16 2023
  • Time: 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

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