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Economics of Forced Displacement and Conflict

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Published on Monday, 13 December 2021

Rana Cömertpay, currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Economics and Management of the University’s Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance, has been researching the topics of forced displacement situations in Turkey and in sub-Saharan Africa and conflict situations in the Arab World. For this work she receives an Excellent Thesis award in Economics, Finance & Management.

Excellent Thesis Awards 2021

The University of Luxembourg will confer Excellent Thesis Awards to honour doctoral graduates who have demonstrated excellence, originality and depth of knowledge in their thesis.

This year, 17 graduates from the Doctoral School of Science and Engineering (DSSE), the Doctoral School in Economics, Finance and Management (DSEFM), the Doctoral School in Humanities and Social Sciences (DSHSS) and the Doctoral School of Law receive this award.

Ten of the 17 award winners are female candidates.

In the run-up to the Graduation Ceremony, we present three award winners in a sneak preview.


Rana’s thesis studies the driving forces behind the movement of refugees inside Turkey across 26 regions in 2017, using a gravity model of migration based on a unique dataset on phone calls in Turkey in 2017, obtained from the Data for Refugees (D4R). The data allows to compute bilateral migration flows at a quarterly frequency and at the provincial level, and to compare findings with a sample of non-refugees (natives and legal immigrants).

Turkey, the largest host country in the world with more than 3 million Syrian refugees in 2017, is an ideal context to address this topic: A bilateral agreement between Turkey and the EU in 2015 closed EU borders to Syrian refugees. Moreover, Turkey extends refugees a temporary protection status allowing them to move and work freely. Finally, migration policy in Turkey has encouraged the relocation of refugees from camps in an attempt to relieve or close them down.

Main results demonstrate that the movements of refugees are sensitive to income differentials and contribute therefore to a more efficient allocation of labor across space as refugees tend to leave low-productivity areas for high-productivity ones. Comparing these findings with those of individuals with a non-refugee status, findings show that refugees are less sensitive to variations of income at destination (possibly due to a lack of information available to them) and more sensitive to distance than non-refugees are.

The thesis essays further investigate annual variations in the presence of refugees to approximate the resulting changes in diversity in the refugee-hosting areas across 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, assessing the relationship between the refugee-corrected diversity indices and the likelihood of conflict between 2005 and 2016. Main findings point to the risk of conflict when the presence of refugees increase ethnic polarisation in the hosting communities. They point to a lower risk of violence of a similar order of magnitude, when refugee flows increase the level of ethnic fractionalisation.

The last essay quantifies the impact of independent media networks on political accountability during the Arab Spring across the Middle East and North Africa region. The study focuses on two major media networks in the Arab world: Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Main results suggest a significant and positive relationship between independent media usage and participation to protests, validating previous findings on media’s capacity to facilitate action, by either spreading relevant information or easing coordination. State media does not seem to affect participation to protests. Such results are in line with the numerous studies discussing the silent role that state media has played during the Arab Spring


In February 2021, Rana Cömertpay was granted the FDEF Best PhD Student award for her PhD topic revolving around the economics of forced displacement and conflict.

In June 2020, she was granted the Fondation Pierre Werner Scholarship for her thesis on the subject of Economics of Migration and Forced Displacement.

Upon completing her 2016-2017 academic year, Rana was awarded the Economist Club Luxembourg’s Prize for best University Thesis in Economics and Finance for her Master thesis entitled “The Impact of Population Ageing on Individual Attitudes towards Immigration”.

Rana receives an Excellent Thesis Award from the University of Luxembourg’s Doctoral School in Economics, Finance and Management. Her doctoral thesis was conducted under the supervision of Prof. Dr Luisito Bertinelli.