Almost half of British people think refugees – including those who have escaped the civil war in Syria – should be turned away from the UK, new research has revealed.
In what Islamic Relief said was a “dramatic hardening of views” against people displaced by war, a poll commissioned by the charity and compiled by YouGov showed that 42 per cent of Britons do not think foreign nationals seeking safety from conflict or persecution should be welcomed to UK shores. Last year, a similar survey found that 31 per cent of Britons believed the UK should not let refugees in.
When it comes to the Syrian crisis specifically, attitudes are even more steadfast – 47 per cent of the 6,000 people polled said the UK should not provide refuge. Only 29 per cent were in favour.
There are now four million refugees from Syria alone, with 95 per cent in only five host countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Despite calls from the international community and a coalition of charities for more help, the UK has offered shelter to just 187 Syrian refugees.
Islamic Relief believes part of the problem could be linked to an increasingly negative view of Muslim people. As the religious holy month of Ramadan begins, the organisation wants to celebrate the role British Muslims play in society, and the donations they give to fund aid.
“The results of this poll are extremely worrying because they show that public attitudes towards Muslims are hugely negative and attitudes towards refugees have hardened significantly,” said Islamic Relief UK director Jehangir Malik. “It’s time we celebrated the role British Muslims play as part of the solution rather than demonising the Muslim community as part of the problem.”
The research sample found a crucial difference in public agreement to house refugees. While 34 per cent of people said they think refugees should be welcomed, just 29 per cent said the same when asked about those from Syria and the Middle East.
It also asked respondents what three words or phrases people associate with the term Muslim, and found perceptions portrayed a “worrying” trend. The top answer, at 12 per cent, was “terrorism”. Other words that ranked highly were “misogynist” and “extremist”.
The Refugee Council’s head of advocacy, Dr Lisa Doyle, said religion should not play a part in responding to humanitarian crises. “These findings should provide the Government with a grave reminder of the importance of leadership when setting the tone of the debate around refugee and asylum policy,” she said.
In pictures: Syria's escalating refugee crisis
In pictures: Syria's escalating refugee crisis
1/20 Syria refugee crisis
A young Syrian refugee stands near jerry cans used to collect water at Al-Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. The United Nations hopes that political talks between the warring sides in Syria will clinch local ceasefires to allow vital food and medicines to reach millions of civilians
2/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrian refugees transport small stones for their tents at Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria
3/20 Syria refugee crisis
Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a deeply divided opposition, world powers and regional bodies started a long-delayed peace conference aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-year civil war
4/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian refugee family rests inside their shelter in Hatay, Turkey
5/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian refugee family from Aleppo crosses the Bosphorus from Uskudar to the European side of Istanbul
6/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syria's air force struck rebel-held areas around Damascus and Aleppo as face-to-face peace talks tentatively began in Switzerland
7/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrian refugees look out from an evacuated house in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul. Syrians fill houses which have been evacuated for urban development projects. Destitute Syrian refugees who have fled the war in Syria and camps in Turkey are fighting for their lives in different parts of Istanbul
8/20 Syria refugee crisis
Refugees who moved into the houses in Kucukpazar neighbourhood near the historic Suleymaniye mosque, are struggling to live without water and heating
9/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian woman and her child stand inside a building in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul
10/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian boy sits in debris in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul
11/20 Syria refugee crisis
Damaged buildings line a street in the besieged area of Homs
12/20 Syria refugee crisis
People sit around a fire along a street lined with debris in the besieged area of Homs
13/20 Syria refugee crisis
Children cut wood pieces in the besieged area of Homs. Efforts to get food and medical aid into Homs have become a test case on whether peace talks in Switzerland can produce any practical results almost three years into the Syrian conflict
14/20 Syria refugee crisis
Boys walk along a street past damaged buildings and vehicles in the besieged area of Homs
15/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrians stand in a destroyed street following a reported airstrike by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
16/20 Syria refugee crisis
Rescue teams search for survivors on the rubble of a building following Syrian government air raids in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
17/20 Syria refugee crisis
A graveyard in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
18/20 Syria refugee crisis
A view of destruction in Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque, in the UNESCO-listed northern Syrian city. The mosque's minaret was blown up during clashes between opposition and government forces
19/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrians attend the funeral of victims who reportedly died of hunger in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus
20/20 Syria refugee crisis
A man holds the corpse of one-year old baby Adbul Jalil Mohamed Hamis wrapped in shrouds, who reportedly died of hunger in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus during a funeral ceremony
“Asylum should have nothing to do with religion or nationality – it is about providing safety to people who need it. Getting the debate wrong could have a direct and serious impact on the lives of some of the world’s most desperate people.”
Shaheen Chughtai, deputy head of humanitarian policy at Oxfam, said the British public tends to respond well to natural disasters, but as war is so complex, there can be a misunderstanding of the “horrors” of what is happening.
“It can be a challenge, because people don’t actually see what’s going on,” he said. “In Syria, for example, it’s politics and war that has led to the crisis. But often it’s innocent people who bear the brunt of the persecution and destruction. If people saw the hunger, the extreme violence, whole lives being torn apart, people might better realise what’s going on.”