Most forced migrants around the world are displaced within the Global South. We study whether and how de jure policies on forced displacement affect where forced migrants flee in the developing world. Recent evidence from the Global North suggests migrants gravitate toward liberal policy environments. However, existing analyses expect de jure policies to have little effect in the developing world, given strong presumptions that policy enforcement is poor and policy knowledge is low. Using original data on de jure displacement policies for 92 developing countries and interviews with 126 refugees and policy makers, we document a robust association between liberal de jure policies and forced migrant flows. Gravitation toward liberal environments is conditional on factors that facilitate the diffusion of policy knowledge, such as transnational ethnic kin. Policies for free movement, services, and livelihoods are especially attractive. Utility-maximizing models of migrant decision making must take de jure policy provisions into account.
American Political Science Review