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Where refugees are welcome

Dagmar BreitenbachMay 19, 2016

The Refugees Welcome Index shows that the vast majority of people the world over would welcome displaced people with open arms, according to Amnesty International. Are governments in sync with their citizens?

Refugees welcome sticker Copyright: DW/D. Breitenbach-Ulrich
Image: DW/D. Breitenbach-Ulrich

Eighty percent of people worldwide would welcome refugees with open arms, according to a survey commissioned by Amnesty International. And many respondents even said they were prepared to take displaced people into their homes.

The Refugees Welcome Index is a first-of-its-kind survey of more than 27,000 people in 27 countries. Carried out in 2016 by the independent strategy consultancy GlobeScan, the survey ranks countries based on people's willingness to accept refugees into their countries, towns, neighborhoods - and homes.

It's a counterweight to "assumptions made around the world that populism means anti-refugee sentiment - that the popular thing to do is to block as many refugees as possible," Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty's deputy Europe director, told DW, calling that notion "a kind of lazy assumption."

Van Gulik said the anti-refugee rhetoric used by some governments was "out of touch with what people actually believe."

Child walking past barbed wire Copyright: Amnesty International/Fotis Filippou
There are more than 19 million refugees in the world todayImage: Amnesty International/Fotis Filippou

The message to governments is "that you have more backing than you think to host refugees and to respect their rights," van Gulik said.

Refugees Welcome - in my home

The study found that one in 10 respondents globally would even accept refugees into their homes. Van Gulik said it was easy for people to say they agreed with the general concept of taking in refugees. "But do they still support it when it gets closer to home?" she asked. "That was surprisingly positive."

The countries that scored lowest were Russia, Indonesia and Thailand.

China, Germany and the UK have the largest proportion of people who would accept refugees into their households. Just under half of people surveyed in China said they would accept refugees into their own homes.

Graph Refugees Welcome Barometer

"It's an interesting indication of a mood," van Gulik said. The response from China is something to be considered when discussing "how other countries should take in more refugees," she added. "Perhaps there is space to think about this in China more."

Seventy-three percent of respondents globally said people fleeing war or persecution should be able to take shelter in countries other than their own. In Europe, support for access to asylum is particularly strong in Spain, Germany and Greece. In Thailand and Turkey, the majority of respondents disagreed with the statement.

Levels of acceptance

Two in three respondents globally said national governments should do more to help refugees fleeing war or persecution.

Support for that notion was highest in China, Nigeria and Jordan, but under 30 percent in both Thailand and Russia. In the European Union, 76 percent of Germans and 74 percent of Greeks wanted governments to do more. Majorities in Turkey, India, Thailand and Russia did not feel that governments should do more to help refugees.

Ninety-six percent of Germans said they would accept refugees into the country; only 3 percent would refuse entry to displaced people. The vast majority of UK respondents would let refugees into Britain.

Globally, 32 percent of respondents said they would accept refugees in their neighborhoods, 47 percent in their communities and 80 percent in their countries.

refugee tents in mud Copyright: Amnesty International/Fotis Filippou
Politicians should listen to people who want to help their fellow human beings, Amnesty saysImage: Amnesty International/Fotis Filippou

Only 17 percent said they would refuse refugees entry to their nations. More than a third of respondents in Russia said they would deny refugees entry.

Share responsibility

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23, Amnesty has urged governments to commit to a permanent system for sharing the responsibility to "host and assist refugees." A global compact proposed by the United Nations in early May could then be adopted by world leaders at a summit on September 19. Both summits are to address the biggest humanitarian crisis in over 70 years.

Van Gulik said it was important to increase awareness of the fact that large proportions of the population in many countries back taking in refugees. "It's time to move beyond the rhetoric that everyone disagrees and everyone is against refugees," she said. "Clearly, that's not entirely true."

"So," van Gulik said, "let's move beyond that and start talking about what we can do to solve the crisis."