World Refugee Day 2020

New global study shows increasing support for the principle of people seeking refuge from war or persecution but concerns about Coronavirus mean that half of those surveyed want their country to be less open to welcoming refugees.

The author(s)

  • Ilya Cereso Public Affairs, UK
  • Roya Kamvar Public Affairs, UK
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A new Ipsos global study conducted to mark World Refugee Day 2020 finds that the large majority of those surveyed across 26 countries increasingly believe that people should have the right to seek refuge – including in their own country – from war or persecution. However, concerns over the Coronavirus outbreak mean that people think their country should accept fewer refugees and some attitudes have hardened, for example, there is increasing scepticism about whether those coming into their country as refugees are genuine refugees. On the other hand, the survey - conducted online among adults aged under 74 in 26 countries -shows that people have become more positive about the ability of refugees to successfully integrate into their new society.

The study shows that:

Seven in ten (72%) believe in the fundamental right of refugees to seek refuge – including in their own country - to escape war or persecution, which is up 11 points from 61% in 2019. One in five (21%) disagree. There is majority support in favour of the right for people to seek refuge across all countries, which is a noticeable change from last year when opinion was much more divided. Those most likely to agree with the principle of the right to seek refuge are in Sweden (81%), Netherlands (80%) and Spain (79%). Levels of agreement have markedly increased in France, Belgium and Germany. Respondents in South Korea (55%), Hungary (57%) and Malaysia (60%) are less likely to agree than the global average.

Half of people (49%) say that they must close their country’s borders and not accept refugees at this time, which has increased by nine points from 40% in 2019. However, four in ten people (43%) disagree. Respondents in Malaysia (82%), Turkey (71%) and India (68%) are most likely to agree that their country’s borders should be closed to refugees at this time, compared with respondents in Spain (35%), Japan (37%) and Poland (37%) who are among the least likely to advocate a closed borders policy. Countries, where views have hardened most about closing their borders since 2019 include Malaysia, Peru, South Africa and Chile.

When asked specifically about the Coronavirus outbreak, again half (49%) say that their country should be less open to accepting more refugees compared with one in ten (10%) who say it should be more open. Three in ten say that it should remain the same as before the outbreak. In no country is there majority support for being more open to refugees at this time. Countries where there is greatest support for being less open are Turkey (67%), Russia (66%), Peru (65%) and Malaysia (64%).

Just over one in ten (13%) say that their country should increase spending (13%) to support refugees around the world because of Coronavirus and one in three want to keep it at the same level (34%). However, two in five (38%) say that spending should be decreased. People in India are most likely to support an increase in spending (33%) followed by Saudi Arabia and Chile (both 23%). Those most likely to say spending should be decreased are in Mexico (52%), Hungary and Canada (both 49%).

Globally, close to six in ten (59%) are doubtful that people coming to their country claiming to be refugees really are genuine, instead believing that they are coming for economic reasons or to take advantage of welfare services – an increase of five percentage points on 2019. Three in ten people disagree – showing no change since last year and suggesting that overall the balance of opinion has become more sceptical about people’s motives for trying to enter their country. Those most likely to doubt the authenticity of refugees coming into their country are in Malaysia (75%), India and Russia (both 74%) and Turkey (72%), while those among the least likely to question whether refugees are genuine are in Britain, Sweden, the US (all 51%), Brazil (47%) and Canada (44%). Countries where scepticism has grown significantly (by 10 points or more) since 2019 are Malaysia, Russia, Chile and Japan.

People have, however, become more positive about the ability of refugees to successfully integrate into their new society than last year. Globally, close to half (45%) agree that refugees will integrate successfully into their new society – an increase of seven points from 38% since 2019. Overall, views on the matter remain fairly split, however, with 44% disagreeing (a fall of four points from 47% in 2019). Countries that are most optimistic about refugees successfully integrating into their new society are Saudi Arabia (65%), India (64%) and Argentina (61%). Countries that are least likely to agree that refugees will successfully integrate are South Korea (26%), Hungary and Belgium (both 28%). Views on this measure have shifted significantly (by at least 10 points) in a positive direction in the United States, Australia, Japan, Brazil and Saudi Arabia as well as a number of European countries including France, Italy and Poland. On the other hand, people in Peru have become less convinced since 2019 that refugees can successfully integrate into their new society.

17,997 online adults were interviewed in total and fieldwork was conducted from 22 May - 5 June 2020. In the US, South Africa, Turkey and Canada adults aged 18-74 were interviewed and aged 16-64 in all other countries. 15 of the 26 countries surveyed online generate nationally representative samples in their countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and United States).

The author(s)

  • Ilya Cereso Public Affairs, UK
  • Roya Kamvar Public Affairs, UK