• Only 14 per cent in the UK, 19 per cent in the United States and 4 per cent in Germany believe more refugees should be admitted.
  • Up to 41 per cent of people associate refugees with terrorism.
  • Young people are much more likely to be more welcoming of additional refugees than older people.
  • Islamic Relief is providing £40m of annual assistance to six million refugees/displaced in 26 countries.

A new international YouGov poll commissioned for World Refugee Day by international humanitarian aid organisation, Islamic Relief Worldwide, has found that refugees are seen as vulnerable, innocent and deserving of help by a significant proportion of people – and yet most do not want their own countries to play a bigger role in hosting them.

The poll, conducted by YouGov in June 2017 ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June, interviewed a representative sample of the population in the UK, the United States, Germany and Lebanon.

Respondents were asked about their attitudes to refugees in general, and also how they felt about refugees from Syria and other countries in the Middle East in particular.

The results showed a worrying pattern of somewhat less welcoming attitudes to Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees in the three western countries polled. Only in Lebanon did attitudes not discriminate between Middle Eastern refugees and others.

Islamic Relief is in the forefront of assisting refugees, displaced people and returnees. In 2015 alone, it assisted six million people in 26 countries, delivering £40 million worth of aid.

The four countries featured in the poll were chosen to gauge attitudes in the three Western countries where Islamic Relief has the most significant presence, and to compare findings with those from Lebanon – a country that has accepted more Syrian refugees per head of its own population than any other.

Just over half of those surveyed in the UK (52 per cent) identified refugees with being “innocent victims”, compared to the United States (50 per cent) and Germany (51 per cent). However, in Lebanon the figure rose to a striking 78 per cent, as respondents have had most experience of, and contact with, refugees.

But despite this level of empathy, a significant majority of people across all four countries felt that fewer refugees should be allowed into their respective countries. In the UK, more than half (54 per cent) of those surveyed felt that fewer refugees should be allowed in, 38 per cent felt the number of refugees in the country should increase or stay the same and 14 per cent felt that more should be admitted.

Among those who voted ‘Remain’ in last year’s EU referendum, the percentages in support of more or fewer refugees were equal at 26 per cent. Among ‘Leave’ voters there was only 4 per cent support for accepting more refugees, compared to 80 per cent calling for fewer.

Attitudes appeared most antagonistic in Germany, with 69 per cent in favour of fewer refugees in the country and 4 per cent for more – even though 62 per cent of respondents were either refugees or had come into direct contact with refugees. The United States had a 43 per cent/19 per cent split, and Lebanon a 56 per cent/17 per cent split.

In both the UK and the United States a majority of those surveyed – 51 per cent and 41 per cent respectively – had had no interaction with refugees.

Lebanon has taken in over two million refugees from the Syrian conflict. The country has no formal refugee camps, so many of the refugees live closely alongside Lebanese nationals within host communities. Fifty-six per cent of those surveyed felt that fewer refugees should be allowed into the country – despite 60 per cent of poll respondents either being refugees or having come into direct contact with refugees. The country is struggling to handle the influx of refugees from Syria and Palestinian territories, which together make up around a quarter of the country’s population.

Across all four countries the youngest age group sampled were those most likely to want their country to admit more refugees – peaking at twice as likely as the average respondent in the UK and Germany.

In the UK a high proportion of those surveyed associated words and phrases such as “innocent victims”, “deserving of our help” and “vulnerable” with refugees. Similarly in the United States and Lebanon, those three choices were the top ones chosen from a list of 10. Germany went against this trend with 41 per cent of people surveyed associating terrorism with refugees – one of the top three answers from German respondents. Associations of terrorism were high in all four countries – 17 per cent in Lebanon, 28 per cent in the UK and 25 per cent in the United States.

Imran Madden, UK Director of Islamic Relief, said:

“We can’t afford to be a world that is indifferent to the plight of refugees. Millions have been forced to flee unimaginable suffering, and they deserve our support and compassion. The findings of this poll suggest there are high levels of empathy with the plight of refugees as vulnerable people and innocent victims, yet few of those surveyed seem willing for their own countries to play a fuller part in accommodating them.

“There are signs of hope in the more welcoming attitude of younger people and the way in which attitudes can soften when people have more direct experience of refugees. The international community needs to redouble its efforts to support refugees, most of all by finding the political solutions that will be needed to prevent the displacement of another generation of Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis and Afghanis.”

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