By Serena Chaudhry
LONDON, May 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Public sympathy for refugees is growing in Britain — and more than half of British people believe there should be greater support from the government, a study found on Thursday.
Sympathy toward refugees has increased, with 38% of respondents to the Aurora Humanitarian Index poll expressing regret that Britain was not doing enough to assist them — up from 27% in 2017.
Even more — 52% — said refugees should get more help.
"It's heartening that nationalistic attitudes towards refugees is in decline in the UK," said Ruben Vardanyan, co-founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.
"Of course, the UK has accepted far less refugees than many other places, and so the question is, to what extent does that lead to action, to more openness... It'll really only matter if it's translated into action."
The European Union gave asylum to more than half a million refugees in 2017, according to statistics office Eurostat, with Germany taking in more than 60%. Most refugees came from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Growing compassion toward refugees could be attributed to a more accepting attitude post-Brexit, as well as the Windrush scandal over Britain's treatment of Caribbean immigrants, according to the data team behind the index.
Close to half of those surveyed — 47% — said legally established immigrants should be able to become citizens in Britain, up from 37% last year.
Analysts said it was unsurprising that sentiment appeared to be shifting in favour of refugees, but also warned it could change quite quickly.
Security concerns and the economy were the biggest factors in swaying attitudes, according to Helen Dempster, communications manager at the Overseas Development Institute, which conducted a similar study last year.
"The problem is, one thing can switch it. What we've seen in Germany is that attitudes were very positive until they had one terrorist attack, and then the attitudes massively nose-dived," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Of the 11,000 people surveyed for the Aurora Humanitarian Index, 58% said terrorism remained the world's biggest humanitarian concern.
Britain granted asylum to just under 15,000 people in 2017, according to government data.
(Reporting by Serena Chaudhry, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)