Asylum: new opinion poll shows broad public compassion but negative comment about the media

The poll, commissioned by Amnesty International UK, the Commonwealth Institute, RefAid, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Save the Children's rights UK and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), however, reveals a wide public misunderstanding over refugee numbers in the UK and a distinct impression that the UK media more often present refugee issues negatively than positively.

The key findings of the research show that:

- The British public overestimate by over 10 times the number of the world's refugees and asylum seekers hosted by the UK

- 85% of respondents believe the media uses negative terms about asylum seekers and refugees

- The term most associated with media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers was 'illegal immigrant'(1), selected by 64% of respondents

- The public was four times more likely to be positive, than negative, to asylum seekers arriving in their community

- 44% said, if forced to seek refuge themselves, they would want to be able to work to provide for themselves and their families

- 62%, when asked why refugees flee their homes, spontaneously gave reasons which could qualify those refugees for asylum: 'escaping persecution' (43%), 'war' (24%) 'escape torture' (9%)

- Young people were less well-informed and less likely to say they would be welcoming to refugees than the overall population

Speaking on behalf of the agencies, Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said:

'This MORI poll shows that British people have empathy for the plight of refugees. The results reflect British values of fair play and justice and the Government must reflect these values in its policies. Measures, which will result in people being removed before their case has been properly considered or not having easy and automatic access to legal advice, do not equal a fair system. Nor do measures that will remove refugee Children's rights from schools, or place people in detention when no crime has been committed.'

1. The phrase 'illegal immigrant' was found in January 2002 by the Advertising Standards Authority to be racist, offensive and misleading. Asylum seekers are not in the UK illegally: seeking asylum is a fundamental human right protected by international law.

2. Refugee Week 2002, running from June 17 to June 23, celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and encourages people to take a positive look at the asylum issue in Britain. A series of nationwide events to celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK takes place during Refugee Week 2002, for more information visit: www.refugeeweek.org.uk

3. A more detailed briefing document and the MORI figures are available from the Amnesty International UK press office (also available at www.amnesty.org.uk later this week).

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