A Psychological Perspective on the Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis is a pressing problem. This article considers it from a psychological perspective.
A Psychological Perspective on the Refugee Crisis
Fátima Servián Franco

Written and verified by the psychologist Fátima Servián Franco.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Undoubtedly, any massive migratory movement will always have its pros and cons. In fact, there’s seldom a perfect solution for the problems it can cause. From a psychological point of view, the refugee crisis can be explained in terms of cognitive biases related to the creation of political-social thought.

When biases come into play, we may start to think in an extremely concrete and polarized way. In other words, we believe that our opinions are the only correct ones. Nonetheless, biases can be useful. That’s because we’re not equipped to process all the information that comes to us through our senses. In effect, biases help us stay in our mental comfort zone, believing that social reality is closer than it is.

The limitations of our immediate memory, the lack of information, or the uncertainty about the consequences of our actions cause people to systematically resort to heuristics or mental shortcuts. We use these shortcuts to simplify troubleshooting. This leads us to make evaluations based on incomplete and partial data.


Ideologies demand a conviction that they then don’t satisfy.

Difficulty in accepting others’ opinions

To understand the refugee crisis we have to analyze the position of all the parties involved. To do this, we must understand how the human mind works in the formation of thoughts. When opinions are formed, facts are mixed with cognitive errors. These condition our perception of reality (past, present, and future).

When we objectively eliminate thought errors when processing information, conflict arises. That’s because there are one or more opposing positions. For example, with regards to immigration, the cons can be found in the identification problems of people who arrive en masse or through mafia trafficking. Also, in the labor problems that they may encounter when changing countries.

On the other hand, the pros are found in the thousands of people who’ll escape poverty and armed conflict in their own country, thus saving their own lives and those of their families. Indeed, in addition to improving their quality of life, thousands of people have escaped poverty or overcome famine thanks to immigration.


However, social problems appear when, in human conflicts, we only choose and process the information that fits our expectations. It’s almost as if we don’t care if it’s reality or a lie. In fact, social reality has as many prisms as perspectives. However, our errors in processing information on certain occasions only allow us to see one of the prisms. This generates strong and vehement opinions.

We are not disturbed by things but by the opinions we have of them.

In the refugee conflict, where are the people?

We come to believe, thanks to confirmation and self-justification biases, that the only way to observe and solve a conflict has to start from our own perception of it. This, we believe, is reality. Nevertheless, we’re nothing more than victims of these thinking errors, which are produced by our brain to simplify problem-solving.

We all make mistakes occasionally when processing information. In fact, this article is based on one such error. Because, so as not to disturb my deepest beliefs and abandon my ideas about humanity, I’m demonstrating my absolute faith in the human being. Therefore, I’m undoubtedly being biased due to confirmation bias.


It doesn’t matter what the idea consists of, or whether the intentions are honorable or not. The moment these become isolated from any type of reasonable doubt, we become dangerously close to fundamentalism.


With regards to the Syrian refugee conflict, if I get rid of my thought biases, I understand there are people who, out of fear or due to personal situations, are against a massive entry of people into their country. I understand they’re afraid that, along with thousands of innocent people, there are others who want to end the democracy that’s cost us so much bloodshed in the West. I understand their objections to culture shock and the consequences that it may have.

However, above all, and due, in part, to my information processing biases, I’m closer to the people who help others, whether or not they’re wrong in their thinking. Political, ideological, or religious conflicts are another matter. However, when we’re talking about people, I believe we should always approach the subject from a humanitarian perspective.


“I know of no great men, except those who have rendered great service to the human race.”



This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.