Helping others is part of the British DNA - Refugee Council
January 1, 1970

Helping others is part of the British DNA

On the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention for Refugees, most Britons still defend Britain’s role as the protector of the most vulnerable.

  • Most Britons are proud to be British (84%) and believe protecting the most vulnerable is a core British value (82%)
  • Two thirds of Britons (67%) are sympathetic to refugees coming to Britain (74% of women and 61% of men)
  • Half of Britons (49%) are proud of Britain’s role in drafting the UN Convention on Refugees
  • Negative attitudes to refugees are based on misunderstandings and confusion

On the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention for Refugees, British people remain committed to the values Britain fought for in World War II, with an overwhelming majority (82%) believing that protecting the most vulnerable is a core British value. Britons remain proud of their heritage and support Britain’s role in offering protection to refugees: two out of three (67%) are sympathetic to those fleeing persecution to seek protection in the UK.

In response to the horrific atrocities of World War II, British lawyers played a key role in drafting the 1951 UN Convention for Refugees to protect people whose lives were at risk in their own countries. The findings of the survey for the Refugee Council carried out by Opinium Research, show that six out of ten (59%) Britons believe that the UN Convention is just as relevant or more relevant for protecting people fleeing conflict today than it was in 1951.

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:

“British soldiers gave up their lives in World War II fighting to build a better world and protect others from persecution. It is a legacy that all British people should be proud of, and should serve to remind us that Britain still has an important role to play in offering safety to those forced to flee their homes to escape violence, torture and war in countries around the world today.

How encouraging that, 60 years after the UN Convention for Refugees was created so many people in Britain remain sympathetic to refugees coming here, and that the majority believe protecting the most vulnerable is an intrinsic part of being British.”

Today’s research also reveals that there is significant misunderstanding around what a refugee is, with many confusing them with economic migrants from Poland and Eastern Europe. Three quarters of Britons also wildly overestimate the small number of refugees granted asylum in the UK. In 2009, 4,175 individuals were granted refugee status, yet 44% of Britons believe it was 100,000 or more.

Notes to Editors:

  1. All percentages used based on GB adults interviewed that had an opinion on the question asked (i.e. they exclude those with no opinion). Opinium research carried out an online survey of 2,017 GB adults aged 18+ from 1st to 3rd March 2011. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.
  2. Key findings of the poll are:
  • Most Britons (67%) are sympathetic to refugees coming to Britain
  • 74% of women were sympathetic, compared to 61% men.
  • 84% of Britons are proud to be British. Pride was highest amongst those aged 70 years or over (93%).
  • 82% of respondents with an opinion agreed with the statement that ‘protecting the most vulnerable is a core British value’.
  • 49% stated they are proud of Britain’s role in drafting the Convention, with 36% being indifferent and 3% stating they are ashamed.
  • 12% believe the Convention on Refugees is more relevant today than it was in 1951, and 47% stating it is just as needed.
  • 44% of respondents believe that 100,000 or more refugees were accepted to stay in the UK in 2009. When asked how many refugees do you think had their applications for asylum accepted in the UK in 2009, the responses were:

    Around 5,000 23%
    Around 25,000 33%
    Around 100,000 25%
    Around 200,000 13%
    More than 500,000 6%