Global attitudes towards refugees

New global study shows majority support for the principle of people seeking refuge from war or persecution but concerns remain – majority are suspicious most refugees are not genuine and worries about integration are growing.

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Public Affairs, UK
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A new Ipsos global study conducted to mark World Refugee Day finds that a majority across 26 countries believes that people should have the right to seek refuge – including in their own country - from war or persecution. However, broader opinions to refugees still include some negative attitudes, and there are some signs that they could even be hardening compared with two years ago. For example, the survey, conducted online among adults aged under 74 in 26 countries, also finds that a majority on average across the countries are sceptical about whether those coming into their country as refugees are genuine refugees, and people have also become less convinced about the ability of refugees to successfully integrate into their new society.

The study shows that:

Six in ten (61%) believe in the fundamental right of refugees to seek refuge – including in their own country - to escape war or persecution, although a quarter (25%) disagree.

  • In most countries, there is majority support in favour of the right for people to seek refuge with the exception of Hungary and Japan where people are less likely to agree (43%, 43% and 23% respectively).
  • Respondents in many Latin American countries e.g. Argentina (74%), Chile (73%), Peru (70%) and Mexico (67%) on the whole tend to be more likely to agree that people should have the right to seek refuge compared to those in many European countries. Along with Hungary levels of agreement are lower in Belgium (50%) and Germany (57%).

People are split on whether their country can accept refugees at this time. Four in ten people (40% on average across the 26 countries) say that their country’s borders should be closed to refugees entirely compared to 46% who disagree. While there has been little change in the proportion agreeing that their borders should be closed to refugees since 2017 (39%), the proportion disagreeing (i.e. keeping borders open) has fallen five points from 51% to 46%.

  • Those in India (64%), Turkey (59%), Sweden (51%) and Serbia (51%) are most likely to agree that their country’s borders should be closed to refugees at this time, compared with respondents in Canada (29%) Brazil (28%) and Chile (28%) who are among the least likely to advocate a closed borders policy.
  • Countries, where views have hardened most about closing their borders since 2017 include Mexico (up 16 points from 22% to 38%) and Peru (up 15 points from 25% to 40%), which have both seen an increase in people seeking asylum from neighbouring countries according to UNHCR. In Serbia agreement has also increased 13 points from 38% to 51%. In contrast, the desire to see their borders closed has fallen in Hungary (down 17 points from 61% to 44%) and Poland (down 6 points from 45% to 39%) – perhaps reflecting the hard-line stance the Polish and Hungarian governments have taken on restricting entry to refugees.

Globally, just over half of people (54%) are doubtful that people coming to their claiming to be refugees really are genuine, instead believing that they are coming to their country for economic reasons or take advantage of welfare services– a very small increase of two percentage points on 2017. Three in 10 people disagree – a fall of five points from two years ago, suggesting people are less certain about people’s motives for trying to enter the country.

  • Those most likely to doubt the authenticity of refugees coming into their country are in India (70%), Turkey (69%) and South Africa (66%), while those among the least likely to question whether refugees are genuine are in Canada (45%) Spain (45%), Brazil (40%).
  • Countries where scepticism has grown significantly since 2017 are Sweden (up 12 points from 38% to 50%), Mexico (up 10 points from 49% to 59%), Spain (up eight points from 37% to 45%) and Serbia (up eight points from 42% to 50%). In contrast, countries where agreement levels have fallen are Hungary (down 11 points from 66% to 55%) and Russia (down seven points from 71% to 64%) – again perhaps reflecting government action to restrict refugees coming to the country and alleviating people’s concerns on the issue.

People have become less convinced about the ability of refugees to successfully integrate into their new society than two years ago. Globally, two in five (38%) agree that refugees will integrate successfully into their new society - a fall of five points since 2017. However, views on the matter remain fairly mixed and 47% disagree (compared with 44% in 2017).

Countries that are most optimistic about refugees successfully integrating into their new society are India (68%), Argentina (58%) and Saudi Arabia (55%).

However, those most likely to disagree that refugees will successfully integrate are in South Korea (67%), Sweden (64%) and Turkey (63%).

Views on this measure have shifted significantly (by at least 10 points) in Serbia, Hungary, Mexico and Peru where people have become less convinced since 2017 that refugees can successfully integrate into their new society.

18,027 online adults aged 16-74 across Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, GB, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the US. The fieldwork was conducted from 19th April - 3 May 2019. 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 knows or not stated responses. The precision of Ipsos online polls are calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.1 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 4.5 percentage points. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Public Affairs, UK