Date of Award

Fall 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International studies

Committee Director

Erika Frydenlund

Committee Member

Jennifer Fish

Committee Member

Matthew DiLorenzo

Committee Member

Emily Campion


The refugee resettlement process is a huge part of refugees’ journeys in their new countries that has a lasting impact on their long-term integration. The literature highlights the importance of trust for successful refugee resettlement. This dissertation, however, challenges assumptions about the primary importance of “trust” and argues that the importance of trust is relative and can depend on the nature of the resettlement program and the perspective and background of refugees. In other words, there is not a one-size-fits-all of trust building in the context of resettlement. For certain resettlement programs trust building can be counterproductive when resources are limited, and the service timeline is restricted. Likewise, for some refugees, trust might not be a primary need and trusting might be challenging.

I focus on resettlement in the US to illustrate how the timeline of resettlement services; the experiences and cultural background of refugees might limit the possibilities of establishing trust between aid workers and refugees. As an alternative, I propose an approach that focuses on providing opportunities for refugees to reciprocate and act as active members of their new community. Using qualitative analysis of interviews conducted with resettled refugees and refugee resettlement aid workers and volunteers, I find evidence to support that while trust is not a universal human norm, reciprocation can enhance refugees’ autonomy and ultimately aid in successful integration. Focusing on reciprocation as the basis for new relationships will strengthen refugees’ connections with their community, enhance their autonomy, and facilitate long-term integration. This research is based on interviews with resettled refugees and resettlement agency workers and volunteers in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.


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