The vast majority of Australians (83%) say that people should be able to take refuge in other countries, including Australia, to escape persecution - an increase of seven percentage points since 2021, according to a new global study carried out in 28 countries by Ipsos for World Refugee Day.
The survey, released today by Ipsos ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June, reveals a global country average of 78% of people, in 28 countries surveyed, agreed in principle that people should be able to take refuge in other countries, including their own, to escape war or persecution. Around one in six (16%) disagree with this principle. Attitudes have become more favourable since last year in most of the countries surveyed, suggesting that the Ukraine crisis has increased public openness to refugees and reversed some of the concerns generated by the pandemic.
The survey, which was conducted online between 22 April and 6 May 2022 with 20,505 adults aged under 74, shows that a majority in all countries surveyed agreed with this principle, with the highest agreement in Sweden (88%), Brazil (86%) and Poland (85%) and the lowest levels of agreement in South Korea (61%), Malaysia (64%) and Turkey (66%).
The backdrop to the survey is that over 100 million people are now forcibly displaced around the world, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in light of the Ukraine crisis, which is the fastest displacement crisis in recent times.
Key Australian findings
- 83% of Australians agree that people should be able to take refuge in other countries, including Australia, to escape persecution. This is an increase of seven percentage points since 2021.
- Opinion is split with almost half (46%) agreeing that foreigners are motivated by economic reasons, or welfare services, to seek refuge in Australia; 44% disagree. The proportion agreeing is down ten points since 2021, and is below the global average (54%)
- Most Australians have faith that refugees successfully integrate into our society (59%), above the global average of 50%.
- Two thirds (68%) believe that refugees make a positive contribution to Australia. This ranks Australia second, behind Saudi Arabia, for being most likely to recognise the positive impact refugees have.
- Only 29% believe Australia should close our borders to refugees at this time.
- Australians are in line with, or above, the global average for allowing refugees if they are escaping ware or a violent conflict (72%), escaping natural disaster or the effects of climate change (57%), are seeking refuge due to their race, ethnicity, or nationality (43%), their sexual orientation or gender identity (38%), their gender (40%) or their political opinion (35%).
- 65% of Australians support asylum seekers being allowed to work.
- Australia is ranked second, after Brazil, as the country with the highest proportion of the population who think their government should accept more refugees, at 27%. This compares to a global average of 15%. A third (36%) of Australians believe the government should accept the same number of refugees as present, and a quarter (24%) think the number of refugees should be reduced.
- Despite being more supportive than many other countries, Australians are less likely than the global average to have personally taken action in support of refugees.
Jess Elgood, Director of Ipsos Australia, said: “The findings from this important Ipsos global study highlight that Australians recognise the positive contribution that refugees make to our society, and that, as a country, we know from experience that they integrate successfully. Despite this knowledge – and personal history for many Australians – we remain sceptical of the motivations of many of those seeking refuge in Australia.”
Key global findings
- Three in four adults on average across the countries surveyed agree with the principle that people should be able to take refuge in other countries to escape war or persecution, and attitudes toward refugees have become more positive on average since last year.
- Two in three support allowing more people into their country if they are seeking refuge to escape war, violent conflict, or natural disaster or the effects of climate change, but there is less support for those seeking refuge due to personal characteristics such as gender, sexuality, or political opinions.
- Two in five say they have taken action to support refugees in the past 12 months, and nearly half of these were particularly motivated by the Ukraine war.
- The public is divided on whether governments are currently accepting the right number of refugees or spending the right amount to support refugees.
- There are rising levels of support for those seeking refuge from war and persecution and more people are backing refugee causes.
The majority globally support allowing more people into their country if they are seeking refuge to escape war, violent conflict, or natural disaster/the effects of climate change.
Nearly two-thirds (a global country average of 64%) support allowing more refugees into their country who are seeking refuge to escape war or violent conflict, with one in ten (11%) opposing.
With climate change effects expected to drive additional displacement in the future, a majority (55%) support allowing more people into their country who are seeking refuge to escape natural disaster or the effects of climate change, with one in seven (14%) opposing this.
When it comes to those seeking refuge due to personal characteristics, however, levels of support are lower. Two in five (41%) support allowing more people into their country if they are seeking refuge due to their race, ethnicity or nationality (19% oppose); two in five (38%) if due to their sexual orientation or gender identity (23% oppose) and the same proportion (38%) if due to their gender (20% oppose); a third (36%) if due to their religion (23% oppose); and a third (35%) if due to their political opinion (24% oppose).
More favourable attitudes towards refugees have been accompanied by action
Two in five (40%) reported that they have taken action to support refugees in the past 12 months – many for the first time, and with nearly half of them being motivated by the situation in Ukraine:
- The proportion saying they have taken action to support refugees is highest in Poland, which is hosting the largest number of Ukrainian refugees; seven in ten (72%) of those in Poland say they have taken action.
- Over two-fifths (45%) of those who say they took action would describe their actions as motivated by the situation in Ukraine; two in five (39%) say it was the first time they had ever supported refugees, and a quarter (24%) say they regularly support refugees.
Gillian Triggs, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said: “The Ukraine crisis has triggered an outpouring of compassion, support and funding. We hope this momentum can be maintained, so that all, and not some, refugees have access to protection and receive support. Because everyone has the right to seek safety no matter who they are or where they come from.”
Scepticism towards refugees persists
Not all the findings were so positive for refugees. For example:
- Over half (54%) agree that most foreigners who want to enter their country as a refugee are there for economic reasons or to take advantage of welfare services (37% disagree).
- Half (50%) believe most refugees will successfully integrate into their new society, while 40% disagree. A similar number, (47%) think that refugees make a positive contribution to their country (41% disagree).
- While more than half (56%) disagree that borders should be closed to refugees entirely, a third (36%) agree and think their country cannot accept any more refugees at this time.
Despite increased support for refugees, views are divided on whether governments should provide more support
Three in five (60%) agree that being allowed to work would help asylum seekers to learn their country’s language and integrate (13% disagree), but views on this policy are nuanced. Almost half (48%) say that giving asylum seekers the right to work while waiting for a decision on their asylum claim could attract people to their country without a genuine asylum claim.
Views are divided as to whether governments are currently accepting the right number of refugees or spending the right amount on support to refugees.
- Over a third (36%) think their government should accept fewer refugees than it does at present, and a third (33%) believe their government is currently accepting the right number. Just one in six (15%) think their government should accept more refugees.
- Two-fifths (41%) think their government should maintain current spending levels on support for refugees around the world, while a quarter (28%) think the government should decrease current spending levels. Only one in six (16%) think spending should be increased.
Trinh Tu, Managing Director of Public Affairs, Ipsos UK said: “The war in Ukraine has galvanised public support for refugees fleeing war or persecution across the 28 countries surveyed, with many people taking personal action to support refugees for the first time. And as we emerge from COVID-19, the public are also more relaxed about keeping their countries’ borders open to refugees. However, public concerns that most refugees are not genuine persist, as is the public’s lack of awareness and support for those seeking refuge for other reasons. The warming of public attitudes towards refugees presents an opportune moment to address these more persistent beliefs and change hearts and minds.”
These are the results of a 28-country survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 20,505 adults, aged 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey, and age 16-74 in 23 other countries, including Australia, between Friday, April 22nd, 2022, and Friday, May 6th, 2022.
The sample consists of approximately 1,000 individuals in each of Australia, Brazil, Canada, mainland China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States, and 500 individuals in each of Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey (please note that Switzerland was not included in 2021)
The samples in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the US can be taken as representative of their general adult populations under the age of 75.
The samples in Brazil, mainland China, Chile, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey are more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent than the general population. The survey results for these countries should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more “connected” segment of their population.
The data is weighted so that each country’s sample composition best reflects the demographic profile of the adult population according to the most recent census data.
The “Global Country Average” reflects the average result for all the countries where the survey was conducted. It has not been adjusted to the population size of each country and is not intended to suggest a total result.
Where results do not sum to 100 or the “difference” appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses, or the exclusion of “don’t know” or not stated responses.
The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 5.0 percentage points.