Professor examines economic impact of peace on refugees

September 16, 2020

Dr. Nürşen A. Zanca continues research with federal funding

SAN ANTONIO – Professor of Economics Dr. Nürşen A. Zanca continued her research over the summer of 2020 into the economic impact of peace on refugees.

The research is part of an ongoing investigation by Zanca to better understand the underlying relationship between economics and peace, specifically the economic benefits of improved peacefulness. Additionally, she is investigating the impact of the lack of peace, or the economic cost of terrorism.

Zanca's research in 2020 is supported with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of its Minority Serving Institutions Program, as well as from Rotary International. She also received DHS funding for her research in 2019.

Over the course of ten weeks during the summer of 2019, Zanca conducted research from the Borders, Trade and Immigration Institute at the University of Houston. With help from undergraduate research assistant Nicholas Randol, they conducted interviews and traveled, including a trip to George Mason University in Washington, D.C. to present their findings at the DHS Centers of Excellence Summit. The research for 2019 focused on the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) and the trends of the U.S. Economy. Her findings indicated a sharp rise in the GTI score for the United States, which is an indication of a rise in terrorist activity.

“This finding is in line with other researchers’ findings who claim domestic terrorism is a persistent threat and is currently at the peak of cycle in the U.S.,” Zanca said. “Consequently, the threat of domestic terrorism is often overlooked and underestimated, and there is a need for comprehensive assessment and evaluation for rising domestic terrorism in the U.S.”

For 2020, Zanca and her new research assistant, undergraduate business student Shania Saucedo, worked to develop a model to define the parameters of domestic terrorism. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pair were unable to travel and instead conducted all meetings and interviews through online video calls.

As an economist and a peace scholar, Zanca said she feels a moral obligation to bring attention to the ongoing refugee crisis around the world. Her aim is to provide visibility for the economic potential of refugees.

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“I sincerely believe that if refugees have a chance to learn and grow, they will contribute socially and economically to their receiving countries,” Zanca said. “It is time that we acknowledge the strength, courage and perseverance of refugees and the contributions they make to the world.”

While Zanca's research focuses specifically on refugees resettled in the United States and analyzes their impact on the American economy, she says her work can be applied to the refugee-host country dynamic throughout the world.

“I think the most important misconception about refugees is that they are perceived as an economic burden, or cost. My hope is that demonstrating their economic value will change this negative perception toward refugees,” Zanca said.

Zanca credits her assistants Randol and Saucedo for their help in conducting the research in 2019 and 2020.

“Randol is a veteran student. I was impressed with his attention to detail and commitment to deadlines,” Zanca said. “I found Shania very bright. She was very fast to adapt to online meetings and completed tasks I gave to her each week. I was very proud of the work she produced regardless of the stress caused by the pandemic.”

Zanca plans to utilize the professional connections she has made at the Department of Homeland Security to reapply for additional funding and continue her research in 2021.

"My goal is to generate a new idea which can turn current humanitarian challenges into sustainable opportunities," she said.