The Refugees in Towns Project: How Local Voices Can Help Us Understand Refugee Integration

Julia Lipkis  |  April 24, 2018

For refugees and host communities around the world, a range of factors can help facilitate or impede integration. What if we could examine the challenges and successes of refugee integration at both a local and global level? The Refugees in Towns (RIT) project, an initiative of the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, is an innovative attempt to consider how the unique experiences of individuals—both refugees and members of host communities—may inform a global theory of integration.


To do this, RIT works with local researchers to develop case studies of the towns in which they live. While the project explores cities and towns across the world, U.S. locations include East Boston and Lynn in Massachusetts; Concord, New Hampshire; Austin, Texas; and Augusta, Maine.


The RIT Project has two main goals:
  1. Define theory of integration: By synthesizing and analyzing a broad range of case studies, RIT hopes to develop a theory of integration that takes into account similarities and differences in how refugees and communities around the world co-exist, adapt, excel and struggle with integration. This global theory may help bridge the diverse ways that integration can be conceptualized, drawing on various economic, social and cultural factors.
  2. The RIT project also seeks to support community leaders, service providers, and local governments in shaping practice and policy. RIT will hold town visits, workshops, and conferences to provide opportunities for dialogue on integration and to share practical implications and best practices that emerge from the research.


Case studies as a research method

RIT relies on localized research methods to gather and analyze data. Program administrators invite researchers including refugees and other immigrants, service providers, academics, and residents of the communities where refugees live and work to write case studies about their own experiences and perspectives on integration. With support and review from the RIT team, contributors develop case studies with three major elements:

  • Mapping: Case studies are built upon geographic explorations of the towns and their different communities. An emphasis on mapping links integration to place, allowing researchers to study how distance from or proximity to other groups and services may influence integration.
  • The urban impact: The arrival of refugees in a town may have profound effects, which in turn influence refugees’ own experience. Researchers consider what changes they have observed, including social or economic changes, changes to the job or housing market, changes to quality of public services like hospitals and schools, etc.
  • Refugees’ own experiences: Case studies draw heavily upon refugees’ own struggles, successes, and resilience throughout the integration process. Researchers may conduct interviews or use other methods to gather information on refugees’ sources of income and financial experiences, social networks, self-definitions of integration, attitudes toward the future, etc.


Get involved!

Want to learn more? Check out META’s podcast interview with Karen Jacobsen, Professor at the Tufts University Fletcher School, director of the Refugees and Forced Migration Program at the Feinstein International Center, and Principal Investigator of Refugees in Towns; as well as Charles Simpson, Program Administrator of Refugees in Towns.

Are you interested in developing a case study for your city or town? RIT is actively seeking researchers to contribute a case study to the project! Contact RIT by filling out this form.

And to learn more about case studies as a method for answering your own M&E questions, see:


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