71% of South Africans believe that people should be able to take refuge in other countries.

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

The author(s)

  • Mari Harris Public Affairs Director
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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:

  • Globally, just over half of people (54%) are doubtful that people coming to their countries 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%).
    • In South Africa, around two-thirds of people (66%) agree that refugees coming to the country are not genuine compared with 26% who disagree.  Scepticism has grown in South Africa with agreement levels increasing by two points from 64% in 2017. 

Refugee 1

  • 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.
    • Respondents in many latin american countries e.g. Argentina (74%), Chile (73%), Peru (70%) and Mexico (67%) overall tend to be more likely to agree that people should have the right to seek refuge compared to those in many european countries. However, South Africans tend to be more supportive than many of the european countries with seven in ten (71%) agreeing that people should have the right to seek refuge.


  • 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%.       
    • South Africans are more positive about welcoming in refugees than the global average where with over half of South Africans (52%) disagreeing that the country’s borders should be closed to refugees compared with a third (39%) who think that borders should be closed at this time.  
  • REfugees 3


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).

  • In South Africa opinions are relatively divided with 49% of people agreeing that refugees will integrate successfully, compared with 41% who disagree.  However, in contrast to the global trends, South Africans have become marginally more positive about the ability of refugees to integrate (up two points from 47% in 2017). ref

Notes to editors:

  • 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
  • Brazil, China, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Serbia, South Africa and Turkey produce a national sample that is more urban & educated, and with higher incomes than their fellow citizens.  We refer to these respondents as “Upper Deck Consumer Citizens”.  They are not nationally representative of their country.
  • The fieldwork was conducted online from 19th April - 3 May 2019


The author(s)

  • Mari Harris Public Affairs Director

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