Britons remain positive about refugee rights

by Charlotte Peel
Diverse Britain

The coronavirus pandemic has led to harder attitudes towards enforcing national borders. Nonetheless, British attitudes towards refugees remain positive. Despite many feeling uneasy about opening borders to refugees at this time, our polling this year suggests that safe and legal routes for refugees to find sanctuary in Britain are still supported by the public.

The pandemic has hampered Britain’s response to refugees, with the UK’s refugee resettlement schemes (which provide safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees) on hold since March.1 At the same time, there has been an increase in people taking dangerous journeys to reach the UK by boat compared to 2019, with sometimes tragic consequences. Many of those who arrive in the UK through this route go on to apply for refugee status.

Polling conducted for World Refugee Day 2020 showed that Britons are among the most positive globally towards refugees. Four in five Britons (78%) agree that people should have the right to seek refuge here from war and persecution, up from 72% last year.

The British public has also become more positive about refugee integration, with half (51%) now agreeing that refugees will integrate successfully into their new society (up from 45% in 2019). This is part of a wider global trend. The pandemic has also seen refugees playing key roles locally in support of their new communities, from North Yorkshire to north-east London.

A police boat patrols the UK coast line in defense of smuggling and illegal immigrants

Britons are more positive about the integration of refugees compared to 2019

Thinking about your
country, do you agree or
disagree with the following
statements? Most refugees
who come to [COUNTRY]
will successfully integrate
into their new society

Source
Ipsos

Base
18,027 online adults aged 16-74, 19th April – 3 May 2019; 17,997 online adults were interviewed from 22 May – 5 June 2020. See www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/world-refugee-day-2020 for full base

The pandemic has resulted in harder attitudes towards enforcing national borders globally

In addition, our polling in May this year shows strong support for reuniting child refugees with their families already living in the UK.2 Support is particularly strong for parents (79% agree) and close siblings (63%) rather than extended family members (51%).

However, the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in harder attitudes towards enforcing national borders globally, including in Britain. The number of Britons who think borders should be closed to refugees at this time has increased to two in five (38%), up from a third (33%) in 2019. Furthermore, a large minority think the country should be less open to refugees compared to before the COVID-19 outbreak (42%). However, a similar proportion (48%) disagree: a third want the country to maintain the same level of openness (33%), while one in six think the country should be more open to refugees (15%). Britons are also divided on spending to support refugees.

Britons are divided
on whether spending
to support refugees
should decrease

Do you think the Government in GB should increase or decrease the amount it spends on support for refugees around the world due to COVID-19 or do you think it should keep spending the same as before the outbreak?

Source
Ipsos

Base
17,997 online adults were interviewed from 22 May – 5 June 2020. See www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/world-refugee-day-2020 for full base

With the reopening of the resettlement schemes on the horizon, these findings show widespread public support for safe and legal routes for refugees to find sanctuary in Britain. However, concerns remain about whether most refugees are genuine or should be accepted at this time.

Refugees welcome sign in residential house window
Charlotte Peel

Charlotte Peel

Research Manager