vol. 25 no. 4, December, 2020

Proceedings of ISIC: the information behaviour conference, Pretoria, South Africa, 28th September to 1st October, 2020.

Short paper

Adding the information literacy perspective to refugee integration research discourse: a scoping literature review

Eeva-Liisa Eskola, Khadijah Saeed Khan, and Gunilla Widén

Introduction. There is a substantial amount of research on refugees and integration. Also in library and information science there are studies focusing on refugees. However, this research knowledge doesn’t easily transfer between disciplines. This paper is a scoping literature review on main perspectives studied within integration research. The aim is to explore how the information perspective is represented and if there is a need for bringing the information perspective more actively into the integration research discourse.
Method.Review articles were retrieved from the Web of Science core collection indexes using Boolean search strings.
Analysis. (1) The retrieved review articles were categorised into the research areas with content description through keywords. (2) Thematic analysis of the review articles with information related perspectives was conducted.
Results. The analysis showed that most integration related research is done within public environmental and occupational health.  In library and information science there is relevant theory development and important research on information literacy and other information related phenomena.
Conclusion. It is important to bring information literacy to the common integration frameworks as a (meta)facilitator of integration. Better communication is needed across the disciplines to guarantee the contribution of research results to successful integration.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.47989/irisic2009


Forced migration is a global challenge affecting individuals, communities and nations. The number of refugees is growing and has reached an alarming level of 25,9 million in 2018 (UNHCR, 2019). Societies must find ways to support the integration of their new members in mutually beneficial ways. There are many initiatives, which aim to improve integration work, see, for example, a list of good practices on the European web site on integration (European Commission, 2020). Still, immigrants do worse in terms of education, work, salaries, housing, health and other social indicators of integration (Ager and Strang, 2008; Cheung and Phillimore, 2017; OECD, 2016). Integration work is fragmented and heterogeneous, as is research in the area and a holistic approach is needed both in practice and research. This paper aims at exploring in what research areas, and with what perspectives refugees and resettlement are studied using a scoping literature review method (Paré et al., 2015). A categorisation of 305 review papers is conducted to reach a better overview and to show how integration research is distributed between different areas and what have been the main perspectives studied. Screening of 62 papers is done to find the information related perspectives in the review papers (17). Since the information perspective rarely is found in the review articles, relevant research in library and information science is additionally presented. The paper discusses the importance of adding the information literacy perspective to existing integration frameworks as a (meta) facilitator of integration.

Research questions and method

Research questions

RQ1. In what disciplines is refugee integration most often studied?

(a) With what perspectives is refugee integration studied?

RQ2. In what disciplines is refugee integration studied from an information related perspective?

 (b) What kind of information related perspective is studied?

Research method

A search was conducted in January 2020 in the Web of Science Core collection indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (1945-present), Social Sciences Citation Index (1956-present), Arts & Humanities Citation Index (1975-present), Conference Proceedings Citation Indexes in Science and Social Science & Humanities (1990-present), and Emerging Sources Citation Index (2015-present). To obtain the results three Boolean search strings were constructed: (1) refugee* OR "asylum seeker*", (2) integrat* OR resettl* OR acculturat* OR inclusion OR "forced migration", (3) information or knowledge, and combined with the operator “AND”. The limitations used were: review as document type and English as language.

First a general search for review papers was conducted to see how integration research is distributed between research areas, and what have been the main perspectives studied. Secondly, the search result was refined with the keywords information or knowledge and the records with irrelevant abstracts (e.g., use of information/knowledge in expressions, such as ‘relevant information from the studies were charted in Microsoft Excel’ were excluded). The content of the abstracts of the relevant reviews were thematically analysed and categorised according to the information perspective addressed in the reviews.


Refugees and resettlement across research areas and the non-information related perspectives studied

The retrieved articles (N= 305) from the initial search were first categorised into the Web of Science research areas using the Web of Science tools for analysis. Table 1 shows how the review articles were distributed between the areas, the occurrence of the area of review articles, and examples of keywords describing the contents.

Table 1: Distribution according to the research areas with the non-information related perspectives
Research areasOccurencesNot information related perspectives. Keywords (e.g.)
Public environmental occupational health81Health, mental health, health care: access to care, policies. Social participation, isolation & support, diseases, coping, violence, living conditions
Psychology/psychiatry42/47Disorders e.g., posttraumatic stress, behaviour problems, abuse, therapies, interventions, services, depression, identity
General internal medicine26Health, mental, perinatal health, diseases: prevention, assessment, gender-differences, cost-effectiveness, strategies, health professionals
Health care sciences services, nursing, environmental sciences, pediatrics, infectious diseases, social work10-14Maternal health, children’s health, policies, gender-based violence, family planning & other services: access, quality, climate change
Anthropology, biomedical social sciences, family studies,
social sciences other, geography, science technology other, business economics, educational research, substance abuse
different areas in medicine
6-9Non-medical keywords, e.g:
female entrepreneurship, spatial interaction; conflict, higher education challenges
Government law, sociology, criminology, demography, dentistry, history, microbiology, neurosciences, parasitology4-5Non-medical keywords, e.g.:
human rights, politics
Ethnic studies, nutrition, public administration, rehabilitation, social issues, women’s studies, area studies, computer science, different areas in medicine2-3Non-medical keywords, e.g.:
housing, social participation, recreation, community programs
Archaeology, arts & humanities, development studies, engineering, international relations, linguistics, mathematics,
developmental biology, different areas in medicine
1Non-medical keywords, e.g.:
culture change, security, racism

Refugees and resettlement with an information perspective across research areas

The second search resulted in 62 retrieved review articles. Table 2 shows how the eligible review articles with an information related perspective (N=17) were distributed between the research areas, the three categories of the information related perspectives, and the number of the review articles in each category.

Table 2: Distribution of reviews with an information related perspective according to the research areas
Research areasInformation related perspectivesNumber of reviews
Public health care sciences & services, environmental & occupational health, nursing, psychology/psychiatry, public environmental occupational health; infectious diseases,
emergency medicine, pharmacology, obstetrics & gynecology
1. Knowledge gaps (refugees, professionals, service providers), issues in communication as barrier e.g., in using services 11
Public, environmental & occupational health, health care sciences & services; medical informatics, geriatrics, pediatrics 2. Lack, barriers, need, form of/access to information5
Health Care Sciences & Services; Medical Informatics3. Health information provision and use of apps1
Total 17

Refugees and resettlement in library and information science

The analysis shows that the information perspective is almost missing from the refugee research. In library and information science there is important research in this area that is not well known outside the own discipline. We have a strong theoretical framework for assessing the contextual or situational factors, the information landscape (Lloyd 2017), also put forward as information horizons (Sonnenwald, 1999) or information grounds (Fisher et al., 2004), when studying information practices of different groups. Language schools are identified as information grounds where they share everyday information and get social support (e.g., Bronstein, 2017). Not having access to the information needed, leads to information poverty (Chatman, 1996) or digital divide (Warschauer, 2002), and thus social exclusion. Refugees are at risk of living information poor lives and information marginalisation in information rich environments due to lack of skills helping them to overcome sociocultural and economic barriers (cf. Bronstein, 2019a). It is important to realise that social inclusion will not happen only through access to information and communication technology (ICT). Access is meaningless without proper skills to manage information (Warschauer, 2002; Caidi and Allard, 2005; Caidi, et al., 2010; Lloyd et al., 2013, Buchanan et al., 2019).

Social connections are important enablers of integration and the role of information literacy is important to study in relation to refugees’ ability to develop their social capital. Access to important knowledge is embedded in the social structures and is available only to those who are part of, and trust, that structure (Widén-Wulff and Ginman, 2004; Widén, 2011). Service providers (Qayyum et al., 2014), cultural networks (Innocenti, 2016), intermediaries such as, family, friends and peers (Buchanan et al., 2019), and public libraries (Pilerot, 2018) are playing an important role as information sources for refugees during their integration process. Cultural knowledge and understanding of the host country have been identified as facilitators of integration but in the same time involvement with refugees’ own ethnic groups enhances their quality of life and social inclusion (Ager and Strang, 2008). According to Gilhooly and Lee (2014) refugee adolescents’ skills in managing digital tools and information help refugees maintain their own cultural networks. Lloyd and Wilkinson (2019) found the ways how refugee youth connect with information using digital and information literacy skills to support their everyday learning. Newcomers and immigrants have varied backgrounds and different experiences with information and information institutions. What information is trustworthy can be very different in different cultures (Caidi and Allard, 2005). Lack of trust in information sources can lead to information resistance, but information literacy in culturally relevant formats and through trusted sources can overcome these problems Bronstein, 2019b). There is a need for more structured literacy plans and programmes tailored according to personal information needs for different refugees at different stages of the integration process (Martzoukou and Burnett, 2018; Oduntan and Ruthven, 2019).

Bringing information literacy to the integration framework

A new approach is needed to stimulate research advancement beyond the normative integration paradigm (Grzymala-Kazlowska and Phillimore, 2018). Also, a more nuanced understanding of the concept of information is needed, not only focusing on accurate information, but including the role of mis- and disinformation in the refugees’ everyday lives (Ruokolainen and Widén, 2020), as well as the challenges posed by the tools and means to access information (Marler, 2018).

We propose that information literacy would be an important addition as facilitator of integration. This can be visualised using the highly cited integration framework originally introduced by Ager and Strang (2008), and recently developed by Ndofor-Tah et al. (2019), by adding the information literacy perspective as a concrete support for the facilitators leading to integration and to meet the present-day challenges faced by refugees (Figure 1).

Integration framework

Figure 1: Integration framework (Ager and Strang 2008 visualised in Ndofor-Tah et al., 2019) added with information literacy

The foundation of the integration framework is based on the understanding that refugees have international and national rights in society, but also responsibilities to respect and adhere to the rules and laws of the new country. Access to information about the rights is important, but the ability to understand and use it is even significantly more important. These information skills come to play through the facilitators and social connections that support the transition towards integration, and are manifested in the five domains: work, housing, education, health and social care, and leisure. The domains are means and markers because success in the domains indicate positive integration and help the integration process. There are also five main integration facilitators: language, culture, digital skills, safety, and stability (Ndofor-Tah et al., 2019). We propose that a cross-cutting dimension should be added, information literacy, defined as ‘the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning’ (ACRL, 2015).


There is a substantial amount of research in the area of refugees, resettlement and integration. It is a complex area as are the key concepts. Integration can be defined in various ways and there are many different categories of refugees (Oduntan and Ruthven, 2019) and it is important to clearly address what part of integration or the refugee process is studied. However, the aim of this paper is to address the state of the art in integration research on an overall level, aiming at exploring in what disciplines and with what perspectives integration is most often studied. While integration work and research is found to be highly fragmented, this is a step towards a better overall view of the research and with a goal to make research in different disciplines more known to each other.

There is important research on the role of information in refugees’ resettlement process, but mainly published in the library and information science field, not necessarily reaching out to other disciplines studying resettlement and integration. Connecting the information perspective more concretely to widely accepted integration frameworks (e.g., Ager and Strang, 2008; Ndofor-Tah et al., 2019) could bridge the gap between valuable knowledge from different disciplines and successful integration. This paper has suggested to add the information literacy dimension to the integration framework, addressing the importance for information mastering skills in addition to access to information and digital skills that are more often discussed. Focusing information literacy helps information providers to consider the complexity of bringing understandable information to people who are used to another kind of information landscape (Lloyd, 2017).


This scoping literature review has shown that refugee and integration research is mostly conducted in the research area of public environmental and occupational health. Examples of the non-information related research topics being, for example health, mental health, health care, social participation and diseases. Information related perspectives, for example knowledge gaps, communication barriers, lack of information was found only in 17 of the 62 reviews explored in the second stage of the analysis. The review has also shown the multiple ways library and information science has focused on the role of information in refugee resettlement and integration. Thus, it can be concluded that there is a need for bringing information, information literacy, and refugees’ information needs into the common knowledge base in order to guarantee the contribution of research results to successful integration of refugees.

About the authors

Eeva-Liisa Eskola is an university teacher (PhD) in Information Studies at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. Her research interests are in information behaviour and information literacy. She can be contacted at eeskola@abo.fi.
Khadijah Saeed Khan is doctoral candidate and researcher in Information Studies at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. In her doctoral dissertation, she examines the information and integration challenges of women refugees in Sweden, from a socio-cultural perspective. Her research interests are information practices, cultural landscape, refugees’ integration and gender aspect. ORCID number https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1972-9806. She can be contacted at khadijah.khan@abo.fi.
Gunilla Widén is professor of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi University, Finland. Her research interests are in the area of information behaviour, information literacy, and knowledge management. She can be contacted at gwiden@abo.fi


How to cite this paper

Eskola, E., Khan, K.S., & Widén, G., (2020). Adding the information literacy perspective to refugee integration research discourse: a scoping literature review. In Proceedings of ISIC, the Information Behaviour Conference, Pretoria, South Africa, 28-30 September, 2020. Information Research, 25(4), paper isic2009. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/25-4/isic2020/isic2009.html (Archived by the Internet Archive at https://bit.ly/3mdaiuH) https://doi.org/10.47989/irisic2009

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