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Refugees Welcome?

May 19, 2016

Amnesty International has ranked 27 countries worldwide on their openness to taking in refugees, but the index paints a more welcoming picture than many display. DW's Christoph Hasselbach casts doubt on the numbers.

France clearing Calais refugee camp
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/MAXPPP

For Shalil Shetty, the General Director of Amnesty International, one thing is clear: governments can "no longer use public opinion as an excuse" to seal their countries off from refugees. According to Amnesty's index ranking 27 countries worldwide about their feelings toward taking in refugees, the general population is said to be more open than the governments are.

In reality, however, interior ministers and heads of state the world over are acting according to their constituents because governments need to take the anti-foreigner sentiments within their countries into consideration.

Especially contradictory are the opinions of those citizens surveyed in Australia versus those actions of their government, which has an extremely restrictive asylum policy. Seven of ten Australians are said to believe that their country has to do more for refugees.

Also noteworthy is that nearly 30 percent of Britons and 20 percent of Greeks were prepared to take refugees into their homes. Whereas in Germany, which is listed as number two on the list, just one-in-ten is prepared to do so. This is interesting as the discussion in Great Britain about a possible departure from the EU has centered - negatively - on the topic of migration, and Greece has been especially hard-hit by the refugee crisis.

The reality on the ground paints a different picture

If the mood on the ground really is so much more positive than it's been understood to be, then why are British citizens not demanding their government do more to let in those migrants stranded at Calais? Why are more Greeks not taking refugees into their private homes? And why are so many still living in school gymnasiums across Germany instead of with German families?

Hasselbach Christoph
DW's Christoph Hasselbach

It's clear that these Amnesty statistics need to be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism. One of the reasons for these surprisingly positive values could be an old well-known phenomenon: just as many people shy away from declaring themselves sympathetic to a right-wing party in surveys, they are equally as prone to present themselves as more humanitarian than they really are. Besides that, the question could be read as totally theoretical. If there really were a willingness to take in refugees as the survey claims, there would be far fewer problems with finding housing for them.

What's peculiar is that in nearly all of the countries, more than two-thirds of those surveyed believe that people should be given the possibility to find a safe haven in another country. This could also be interpreted to mean that, yes, they can be brought to another country, but not to us, please.

Another question that got high approval ratings was: "Should your government do more to help those refugees who have fled war or persecution?" But, one could interpret that word "help" to mean, for example, financial or medical aid for refugees in their home region and not necessarily in the respondent's country.

China should take on more responsibility

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise was the result from China, which was at the top: nearly half of the Chinese people surveyed would take a refugee into their home, which is an exceptionally high number. Yet the question is of little practical value in China, as the country generally takes in little to no refugees. No one surveyed would ever have to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to proving the veracity of their hospitality.

As puzzling as much of what these statistics bring to light might be - such as the question of why the Chinese population is so much more open in these questions than Thais or Russians - one fundamental lesson can be taken away from the results: the responsibility for refugees must be better distributed worldwide. When the populations of countries, like China, South Korea or Chile, are really for greater involvement to help refugees why aren't international organizations demanding they take on more responsibility?

But it is hard to understand why Germany should take in more than a million people in one year while many other countries completely closed themselves off. After the Amnesty survey, however, it would seem that the mood of the people cannot always be the reason.

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