To integrate or return? Policies, aspirations and outcomes for Ukrainian refugees in the Nordic countries

Will I ever go home? Will they ever return?

These questions touch upon a core dilemma shared by refugees and policymakers alike in host countries.

Do Ukrainians fleeing the war have a short- or long-term perspective on their stay in host countries? And are policies in host states indicative of a short- or long-term integration perspective on their part? Are the perspectives of either integration in the host country or return to the home country mutually exclusive in practice? What are the consequences and outcomes – both for the individual and the host society – of different policies favoring one perspective over the other?

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine from February 2022 has resulted in the largest migration flow in Europe since World War II. The European (short-term) solution has been to provide Ukrainians fleeing the war with temporary collective protection to tackle the massive influx. However, after the initial shock and as the war drags on, the dilemma of whether one should have a short- or long-term perspective on Ukrainian refugees’ stay in their host countries becomes impossible to ignore – both for policymakers and for Ukrainians themselves.

This dilemma relates to questions of both integration and return. In this project, we examine the dynamics between 1) national integration and return policies, 2) the Ukrainian refugees’ experiences and aspirations, and 3) actual return and integration outcomes for this group – and how these dynamics develop the initial years from 2022 to 2025. We explore this dilemma and dynamic interrelation through comparative and longitudinal analyses in four Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland) – combining qualitative and quantitative data and methods, including policy analyses, interviews with and surveys of Ukrainian refugees, and statistical analyses of Nordic register data.

The project’s main objectives are to:

  • Theoretically explore the interrelation between national policies, refugees’ experiences and aspirations, and integration and return outcomes.
  • Contribute to the ongoing migration literature, by ensuring rich data collection and analyses of a new “case” in real time.
  • Provide relevant stakeholders with up-to-date, policy-relevant knowledge about alternative policy solutions and their effects.
  • Elucidate the Ukrainian refugees’ (target group) perspective in both the research design and knowledge base for future policy developments


Bodil Aurstad. Photo: NordForsk

Bodil Aurstad

Special Adviser