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Abubakr al-Shamahi

UK attitudes to refugees harden

Syrians have fled their country in their millions, but Britons don't want them (Anadolu)

Date of publication: 15 June, 2015

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A poll on Monday showed some 42% of Britons would not offer shelter to refugees, in a hardening of UK attitudes towards those fleeing war and persecution.

Should one of the world's richest nations accept refugees desperately fleeing from conflicts in countries such as Syria, Sudan and Sri Lanka?

The UK is one such nation; but 42 percent of Britons think their country should not, according to a poll commissioned by the British charity Islamic Relief, and carried out by YouGov.

That was compared with only 34 percent of the more than 6000 respondents who agreed with the statement: "The UK should be a place of refuge for people who have fled from conflict and persecution overseas."

The results show a hardening of attitudes towards refugees, and towards immigrants in general, in the UK.

Last year, a similar poll said that 31 percent did not think that the UK should accept refugees.

The poll comes only a month after the anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) took 3.9 million votes in the general election.

The other main finding of the poll reveals even more unsettling news for those who believe that the United Kingdom should continue in its tradition of being a place of refuge for people from around the globe, with attitudes towards refugees from Syria and the rest of the Middle East even more unwelcoming.

47 percent said that the UK should not welcome people fleeing from the brutal conflict in Syria, which has left over 200,000 people dead, according to rights groups.

Only 29 percent said that the UK should accept refugees from Syria, despite the country only offering shelter to 187 Syrian refugees so far, out of a massive 4 million who have fled their country.

Many of these refugees often live in extremely difficult circumstances in Syria's neighbours, and thousands are so desperate that they have been willing to risk their lives on arduous crossings of the Mediterranean, leaving their lives in the hands of people-smugglers.

The positions some of the respondents had towards refugees from Syria and the Middle East may be explained by the answers from another part of the survey, where respondents were asked what terms they associate with Muslims.

The highest percentage of respondents, at 12 percent, chose the term "terror", "terrorist" or "terrorism".

"The results of the 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."

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