Attitudes harden towards refugees from Syria and Libya, BBC poll suggests

media captionHow attitudes to refugees have changed

Attitudes towards allowing refugees into Great Britain have hardened, a survey for BBC Local Radio suggests.

Two in five (41%) of the 2,204 people interviewed by Comres say Britain should accept fewer refugees from Syria and Libya.

The figure was 31% in September 2015.

However, more than half of those surveyed (56%) supported refugees being placed in their local area once they are brought to the UK.

The poll indicated the number of people who say Britain is not doing enough has dropped since September, when photographs were published of two-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi, who drowned off the coast of Turkey.

Of those questioned, 24% said Britain should allow more refugees, compared with 40% in September.

Refugees welcome?

More people say Britain should take fewer refugees from Syria and Libya


said fewer refugees should be accepted in January 2016


said the same in September 2015

  • 51% in the West Midlands said fewer should be resettled

  • 31% of Londoners surveyed said the same

  • 31% in the South East said more should be brought to Britain

  • 15% of those in the North East said more should be able to come

Getty Images

The survey found a decrease of 10 percentage points, down from 39% to 29%, since September in the proportion of Britons who say that Britain is not doing enough to take its fair share of responsibility for people coming to Europe from countries such as Syria.

Younger Britons, aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34, were "significantly more likely" than those aged 65 and over to say Britain should take more refugees, the poll suggested. About one third of younger people believed this compared with 14% of over-65s.

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe New Year's Eve attacks in Cologne were said to involve groups of drunk and aggressive young men

However, almost two thirds (65%) of those surveyed did not believe the attacks by migrants on women in the German city of Cologne should affect willingness to accept migrants into the UK, while 69% thought the incidents received more news coverage because they involved migrants.

Regional differences

Three in five adults from London (60%) surveyed said they supported the UK accepting more refugees from Syria and Libya compared with a third of adults in north-east England (33%) and two in five in the West Midlands (38%).

While 56% of those surveyed supported the idea of refugees from Syria and Libya being placed in their local area, there were differences from region to region.

Two thirds of Londoners (66%) surveyed said they supported refugees from Syria and Libya being placed nearby, while 44% of adults from the North East and 50% of those from the West Midlands said the same.

Three in five British adults suveyed (61%) said accepting refugees from countries such as Syria and Libya puts Britain's security at risk, and more than half (56%) thought that Britain's economy cannot afford to accept any more refugees.

However, just more than half of those surveyed (52%) did not believe that people would be "far more welcoming" if it was only children and not adult refugees brought to the UK.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionSome 52% disagreed that people would be "far more welcoming" if it was only child refugees brought to the UK

'Generosity of spirit'

Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Dr Lisa Doyle said: "It's clear that many people in Britain have been deeply moved by the deadly refugee crisis unfolding on Europe's doorstep.

"It's extremely encouraging that the majority of the British public think that helping refugees from places like Syria is a sign of Britain at its best. We have a proud tradition of protecting refugees and the desire to help others is undoubtedly part of what makes Britain great.

"Now is the time for the government to demonstrate the same generosity of spirit, by offering some of the men, women and children arriving on Europe's shores the protection they so desperately need."

A spokesman for Migration Watch, which advocates tighter immigration controls, said: "The poll results come as no surprise and underline the public's concern both with levels of migration and the seemingly endless flow of asylum seekers, many of whom turn out to be economic migrants simply looking for a better life."

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "The UK has been at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and through our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme we will help up to 20,000 Syrians in need of protection.

"We are very grateful to all those across the country who worked tirelessly to make sure the first 1,000 people to arrive were able to settle, safe and well.

"But we are by no means complacent and we know that there is a long way to go - that is why we are continuing to work with the individuals and groups who have made offers of assistance, in order to develop a sustainable model for helping these vulnerable people settle and integrate in the UK."

ComRes interviewed 2,204 adults in England, Scotland and Wales aged 18 and over by telephone between 22 and 24 January.

More on this story