Public massively overestimate numbers seeking refuge in UK, survey suggests

By agency reporter
June 9, 2009

A massive 95 per cent of the British public do not know how many people apply for asylum in the UK each year, with the vast majority hugely overestimating numbers, a British Red Cross survey has revealed.

Shockingly, almost a quarter of the British public think more than 100,000 people apply for asylum in the UK each year: around four times the actual number of applications in 2008.

Only five per cent of those surveyed in the nationally representative ICM poll of over 1000 people, correctly identified that between 20,000 and 30,000 people apply for asylum in the UK each year.

The average figure given by those taking the survey, commissioned as part of the British Red Cross Look Beyond the Label campaign ( in the run up to Refugee Week (June 15-21), was 58,000, more than twice the actual 2008 figure (25,670).

“The survey results are fascinating,” said Nick Scott-Flynn, head of British Red Cross refugee services.

“There is a clear gap between perception and reality. The number of refugees coming to the UK is far lower than the vast majority of people think.”

The survey also examined attitudes, with people asked to select positive and negative words they associate with refugees and also what kind of jobs they thought refugees had in their home countries before coming to the UK.

While 92 per cent of people gave one or more positive associations, 49 per cent gave at least one negative association.

The survey also found that most people think refugees are largely low-skilled workers in their country of origin rather than professionals, when in fact the opposite is true.
Surprisingly perhaps, 18 to 24 year-olds, the lowest age group surveyed, were more likely than others to have negative views about refugees, particularly in rating them as uneducated.

The 18 to 24 year-old group were also the most likely to assume refugees came from a low-skilled background.

“It’s great that the overwhelming majority of people have positive associations with refugees and recognise and appreciate the qualities people bring to life in the UK – that is what Refugee Week is all about celebrating" said Scott-Flynn.

“But it is also about education and tackling misconceptions and there is clearly still work to be done to get those messages across.

“From the work the British Red Cross does with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, we know that people are skilled and want to contribute to society. We work with teachers, lawyers, doctors and business people who have all been forced to seek sanctuary here.”

When it came to saying what proportion of the world’s asylum seekers live in the UK, people were again wide of the mark, with 97 per cent unable to give an accurate figure.

More than 85 per cent couldn’t give a figure or said the UK is home to more than the actual 3 per cent of the world’s asylum seekers.

On average, people think the UK hosts 24 per cent of the world’s asylum seekers – eight times the actual figure.

“We provide sanctuary to far fewer people than many developing countries which are less obviously able to cope such as Chad, Tanzania, Pakistan,” said Scott-Flynn.

“But the real point is that we need to look beyond the numbers and concentrate on the individuals involved. We should be proud of the UK’s role offering refuge to people in desperate need of safety, and celebrate the skills, talents and contributions that people who seek sanctuary in the UK bring.”

Headline Figures:

• British adults think on average that 58,000 people apply for asylum in the UK per year.

• Almost one in four adults (23 per cent) think that over 100,000 people apply for asylum each year.

• Only five per cent correctly identified that between 20,000 and 30,000 people apply for asylum per year. Around 95 per cent of people could not say how many people apply for asylum in the UK each year to within 5,000.

• Most people think refugees were blue-collar workers in their country of origin rather than professionals – in fact studies suggest the opposite is true.

• 92 per cent gave at least one positive association – hardworking, intelligent, brave, friendly - compared to 48 per cent who gave one or more negative associations – uneducated, hostile, lazy, cowardly.

• The top choice was 'hardworking', selected by 78 per cent of those surveyed.

• 29 per cent said 'uneducated', rising to 61 per cent amongst respondents aged 18-24.

• Overall, if people in Britain had to evacuate their home and did not know when they would be able to return, they would take money or their wallet with them.

• Tied in joint second place, just one per cent behind, were photographs and passport or ID.

• Amongst women, photographs were the first choice while in the 18-24 age group mobile phones were the clear winner with 25 per cent.

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