On balance, people around the world are more accepting of refugees fleeing violence and war than they are of immigrants moving to their country, according to a new analysis of public opinion data from 18 nations surveyed by Pew Research Center in spring 2018.
By Raea Rasmussen & Jacob Poushter
The analysis comes as many countries grapple with a surge in refugees and migration amid the ongoing civil war in Syria and other armed conflicts in the Middle East. There were 258 million people living outside their country of birth in 2017 including roughly 20 million refugees, according to the United Nations.
For these questions, refugees are described as people “fleeing violence and war” while immigrants are described as people “moving to our country.” There is no further specification for what the terms refugee and immigrant mean, and they may be interpreted in different ways by different respondents.
Across the 18 countries surveyed, a median of 71% of adults said they support taking in refugees fleeing violence and war. By contrast, a median of 50% said they support “more” or “about the same” number of immigrants moving to their country, a 21 percentage point difference.
The gap was largest in Greece, where 69% supported taking in refugees, compared with just 17% who supported more or about the same number of immigrants moving to their country. In Germany, people were also much more likely to support taking in refugees (82%) than immigrants (40%).
In Japan, on the other hand, 81% supported more or about the same number of immigrants moving to their country, while a smaller share (66%) supported taking in refugees. Despite reaching its highest-ever foreign national population of 2.7 million in 2018, Japan’s population is shrinking. Only China is expected to lose more people by the year 2100, according to recent UN population projections.
In the United States, public support for accepting refugees and immigrants was roughly equal in the 2018 survey (66% and 68%, respectively). In 2018, the U.S. resettled 23,000 refugees, down from 33,000 the previous year and a recent high of 97,000 in 2016. At the same time, new immigrant arrivals to the U.S. have also fallen.
In a separate Pew Research Center survey conducted in spring 2018, 51% of Americans said the U.S. “has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country,” while 43% said it does not.