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Photos: International IDEA/Tomas Spragg Nilsson 
Ezra Mannix
Author of the Turkey case study (Syrian refugee and asylum seeker communities)

I was surprised by how well people understood what democracy is. At the same time, when it came to the implementation and the questions of rights and responsibilities, answers were missing. Then it became clear to me: Not only that they don’t participate in their host country, but some of them have also never cast a vote in the country they came from. They have not lived with democracy. It is a great concept, but the question is how to implement it. Civic and political education, especially for younger generations, is the key.

The more we participate in our countries of origin, or as migrants in the places we are, the more we feel included and this is beneficial not only for us as individuals, but also for the long-term safety and wellbeing of those countries on a social, economic, on every level.
 
Mukondeleli Mpeiwa
Author of the South Africa case study (Congolese refugee and asylum seeker communities)

The biggest surprise for me came not while researching, but during the two days of workshop where I exchanged with the other researchers from the project and some experts. I was surprised to hear some hesitations on whether we need to find ways to facilitate the right to political expression for refugees in their own countries of origin, which is a right of theirs and cannot be denied. When it comes to the modalities, however, I learned that one should look deep into the context, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

My future work will change in a way that I will have a more open mind when working with refugee-related issues. We tend to see refugees and asylum seekers from a humanitarian perspective and to neglect the other rights and needs they have. We should not put people in the vulnerability box only, as suffering and poor, but be aware that they have a voice and can make a positive contribution to our societies.
 
Nora Jasmin Ragab
Author of the Germany case study (Syrian and Afghani refugee and asylum seeker communities)

I was looking in particular into the political behavior of the more active individuals and groups within communities. Most surprising to me were the similarities in experience I noticed among Afghani and Syrian communities when it came to questions of political participation. Most of them faced obstacles to participating in their home communities due to the failing systems, and felt somewhat excluded from the political spaces in Germany due to the perception of being labeled as refugees or "the Muslim other".

Political agency is very strong; even refugees with no papers started organizing from the first day to influence their own conditions. The same is with the Afghani communities. I could notice a strong engagement at the grass-root levels, but also rich knowledge and experiences of involvement with political parties and processes.
 
Caleb Otieno Opon
Author of the Kenya case study (Somalian and South Sudanese refugee and asylum seeking communities)

My impression from the research was that humanitarian needs come first, before you can think of political rights and opportunities for participation. Especially among and regarding the Somali communities. Somalis long to participate in the politics of Somalia, but also to be treated as people with equal rights in Kenya. Both are challenging. Refugee communities are considered by some actors a security threat due to the sensitive context in both countries, despite the acknowledgment that many need the protection.

The international community should put pressure on countries of origin to include the refugee communities. If leaders are democratic and believe in the “one person, one vote” premise, then they need to let people express their opinion and make decisions on who is going to lead them, whether outside the country or inside the country. People should also be able to know and realize their rights in the context in which they live in the host countries.
 
Tigranna Zakaryan
Author of the Uganda case study (South Sudanese and Congolese refugee and asylum seeker communities)

I was very surprised by how welcomed this research was among the communities I interviewed. I was slightly nervous, especially concerning the research with the South Sudanese communities, as Uganda was just emerging from a humanitarian emergency response situation when I was in the field. I think this research in particular was welcomed because people inherently have the answers to their problems and they want a platform to be able to voice their perspectives. Many times my respondents said: "Once I become a refugee and inherit this title all my decision-making power has been taken away from me".

It was very enriching for me as a researcher to be able to exchange with people on their ideas regarding what can lead them back to their original countries, or if they didn’t want to repatriate, how they saw themselves as individuals expanding their capacity to move forward after exile.
 
Shoaib Sharifi
Author of the United Kingdom case study (Afghani refugee and asylum seeker communities)

Political engagement of the Afghani refugee community in the UK is strong. Most who are naturalized vote, many join political parties, and even some people who do not have voting rights yet try to engage in various ways. I became aware that when refugees leave their homes, they maintain the thirst and craving for politics like all other human beings – every dinner table discussion is about politics, but they do not have the means.

There was great interest in the research, not only that people wanted to talk to me, but they also wanted to exchange among themselves. Therefore, I organized a radio talkshow on a diaspora Afghan Voice Radio where people could call in and discuss.“Political participation, at least in some way, is very important. If we don’t engage now, our children are also disengaged and will remain disengaged as adults; this society will remain distant to them.
 
Tarig Adan
Author of the Sweden case study (Somali and Syrian refugee and asylum seeker communities)

I was puzzled that many young refugees are active in civil society but reluctant to engage with political issues or vote. Integration is happening within many fields, but social and political participation is neglected, especially when it comes to voting. Election turnouts among migrants entitled to vote are very low. The reasons behind this is that people’s priority is to find housing, learn the language, get a job, often they are also thinking about issues related to their home country etc. The newly introduced temporary status also discourages people from participation, as it increases their burden of uncertainty.

People need to be educated as to what is democracy and why it is important for them to be active participants in society. There need to be political and civic awareness trainings at an early stage, so they know what rights they have and how far they can participate.
 
Zeina El Helou
Author of the Lebanon case study (Syrian refugee communities)

This is a very under-researched topic, but the research itself was quite challenging in Lebanon. Both Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities do not want to talk about it, for different reasons. Refugees because they have other priorities and never really believed their opinions would make a difference, host communities because they are used to a closed system, and because they themselves feel pretty much excluded from political processes anyway.

It is important to note as well that Syrian refugees themselves are not particularly longing to be naturalized in Lebanon. The history of the relations between the two countries, as well as the very dire socio-economic conditions of Lebanon, also do not play a contributing role. The fragile sectarian balance would also definitely suffer. It is not that I would miss sectarianism, being a fervent and very active opponent to that system anyway, but the outcome at this stage would probably be another cycle of violence because we do not yet have proper mechanisms for such transition.