World Refugee Day

Britons amongst most supportive globally of refugees’ rights to escape to another country from war and persecution however half are sceptical that many refugees are genuine

A new Ipsos global study shows that Brits are among the most supportive of the right of people to seek refuge from war or persecution and are less likely than average to want to close their borders to refugees.  However, concerns remain with half suspicious that most refugees are not genuine.

The 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 towards refugees still include some negative attitudes, and there are some signs that they could even be hardening compared with two years ago although this is less the case in Britain.  The survey, conducted online among adults aged under 74, finds that a majority on average across the 26 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: 

Brits are among the most supportive of the fundamental right of refugees to seek refuge – including in their own country - to escape war or persecution, with seven in ten (72%) agreeing that people should have this right (compared with 61% globally). One in five Brits (18%) disagree that people should have this right compared with 25% on average across the 26 countries. 

  • In most countries there is majority support in favour of the right for people to seek refuge with the exception of France, 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 and France, levels of agreement are lower in Belgium (50%) and Germany (57%).  

Brits are more positive about welcoming in refugees than the global average with just over half of Britons (54%) disagreeing that the country’s borders should be closed to refugees compared with a third (33%) who think that borders should be closed at this time.  These figures have seen little change since 2017. 

  • Globally, people are split on whether their country can accept refugees at this time.  Four in ten people (40% on average across the 26 countries) agree 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 country 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.  

  • Brits are in line with the global average with around half of people (51%) agreeing that refugees coming to the country are not genuine compared with 37% who disagree.  Scepticism has grown in Britain with agreement levels increasing by four points from 47% in 2017.
  • 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.  

Brits are relatively divided over whether refugees will integrate successfully into their new society; 45% agree they will integrate compared with 38% who disagree.  However, in contrast to the global trends, Brits have become marginally more positive about the ability of refugees to integrate (with agreement up three points from 42% in 2017). 

  • Globally, people have become less convinced about the ability of refugees to successfully integrate into their new society than two years ago.  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, Peru and France where people have become less convinced since 2017 that refugees can successfully integrate into their new society.  


Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Research Director at Ipsos MORI says:

These findings show that Brits are very compassionate about people’s fundamental right to seek refuge from war and persecution and they are among the least likely globally to want to close the borders to refugees.  However, in practice there is widespread concern about people taking advantage of the system and the public remains relatively divided over the extent to which refugees will successfully integrate into their new society.   

Emma Harrison, CEO at IMiX – migration communications hub says:

Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees, from the Kindertransport to refugees fleeing civil war in Bosnia in the 90s, we answer the call to provide sanctuary.
We know Britain welcomes refugees because every day we hear stories of kindness and of welcome. Whether it’s from the community sponsorship group in Herne Hill who are helping a Syrian family settle in to London to the Sanctuary Strikers in Reading, a group of locals and refugees brought together through their shared love of football.  
Concerns about integration are real but they could easily be resolved by government investment in English lessons for new arrivals and enabling people to work while their asylum claim is being processed. 
More than anything, refugees want to build a new life for themselves and their families - having made their perilous journey here and having lost so much already. We also know that people don’t make the decision to leave their home lightly - far from it. These decisions are made when the bombs are dropping on your city, when soldiers are storming your hospitals and schools, when you are being persecuted because of your sexuality or your beliefs.  When you are not safe in your own home it makes sense to move – and here in Britain we respond more often than not with friendship and compassion. 


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 
  • 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

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