Migrant crisis: UK public 'split' over taking refugees

Refugees from Syria pray after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos Image copyright Getty Images

Some 57% of people in the UK are in favour of the status quo, or the government taking fewer refugees from Syria and Libya, a poll suggests.

Forty per cent said the UK should take in more.

One thousand people were interviewed by telephone between Friday and Sunday in a ComRes poll for BBC Newsnight.

There were sharp divisions on class and age - with middle class and younger people more favourable to taking refugees.

The poll was an attempt to gauge public opinion after the publication of photos showing the body of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi after his family's ill-fated attempt to reach Europe.

The largest group supported more refugees being allowed to come and live in Britain - 40% of respondents.

Thirty one per cent said Britain should take fewer refugees, and 26% said the number should be about the same as it currently is.

Of those polled, 17% per cent said the UK government is doing "a good job" dealing with the migrant crisis - compared to 38% who said the German government is doing well.

Image copyright Getty Images

On Monday, after this poll was conducted, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the UK would accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years. Vulnerable children and orphans would be prioritised, he said.

Q: Do you think that Britain should allow more or fewer refugees from countries such as Syria or Libya to come and live in this country? Or do you think Britain should take the same amount of refugees as it does currently?

More 40%
Fewer 31%
About the same amount 26%
Don't know 3%

The findings also show how far-reaching the pictures of Alan Kurdi picture was - 78% told the pollsters they had seen the image - but people did not agree that the picture should influence Britain's response to the European migration crisis.

Sixty four per cent of people who had seen the photos said that such images should not influence immigration policy.

However, those who had seen the pictures were considerably more likely to say the UK should take more refugees (44% to 24%).

The poll showed a 14-point swing in opinion towards Britain accepting refugees under an EU quota system, when compared with June.

There was also an 8% swing towards people saying it is the responsibility of the EU, rather than the individual countries, to deal with the crisis.

Did you see the images of the drowned Syrian boy Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach?

NET: Any awareness 92%
Yes I have seen them 78%
I have heard about them, but not seen them myself 14%
No, I have not seen nor heard about them 7%

ComRes found a sharp division in attitudes based on class. Fifty-four per cent of adults in the traditionally middle class ABC1 social grade were in favour of more refugees, compared with 24% in the working class C2DE group.

Younger people between 18-34 were most likely to be in favour of the country taking more refugees.

Image copyright Getty Images

The poll shows how carefully the government has to tread as it offers help for refugees to come to Britain. Conservatives are aware that if they are seen to be too generous to refugees, they risk losing support to UKIP ahead of the upcoming EU referendum.

More on the poll with Allegra Stratton on BBC Newsnight on Monday 7 September at 22:30 BST on BBC Two. You can also watch on iPlayer (UK only)

More on this story