Generation gap in attitudes to asylum-seekers

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The Independent Online

Britain's reputation as a tolerant nation may well be deserved, with a poll published today showing that the populace at large is sympathetic to asylum seekers.

Britain's reputation as a tolerant nation may well be deserved, with a poll published today showing that the populace at large is sympathetic to asylum seekers.

The Mori research, commissioned to mark the start of Refugee Week today, found that people were four times more likely to be sympathetic towards asylum-seekers than they were to be negative or hostile.

However, young people are less understanding, with just 19 per cent of those aged 15 to 18 saying they would be welcoming, compared with 26 per cent of adults.

Last week a French Red Cross study said Britain was a magnet to asylum-seekers on the Continent because of the civilised reception they expected to receive. Yet this tolerance has not always been obvious in the heated debate that continues to rage over the subject, most notably recently when David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, proposed excluding refugee children from mainstream schools.

Much of the controversy may be engendered by a huge overestimation of the number of asylum-seekers in the UK. The survey found that people believe Britain takes in nearly a quarter of the world's asylum-seekers, when the true figure is less than 2 per cent. The misconception was even wider among youngsters, who thought the UK took in 31 per cent of the world's total.

The research, in which 2,200 people were interviewed in nearly 200 parts of Britain, was commissioned by organisations including Amnesty International, the Refugee Council, Refugee Action and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the week should be a time to celebrate "the immense contributions refugees make" as well as this nation's "proud history of providing sanctuary to those fleeing persecution", but added that a lack of knowledge among young people was a serious concern. "We call on politicians and the media to take heed of these important findings and ensure they represent all sides of the refugee story," he said.

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