British Future and Hope not Hate have recently published their final report on ‘The National Conversation on Immigration’ – the biggest-ever public consultation on immigration and integration. The final report provides a comprehensive evidence base of public views on immigration, including reports from each of the 60 locations visited and concludes with a series of recommendations to national and local government, business and civil society.
There are some interesting insights for refugee advocates in the report. Generally, it was noted that most citizens’ panel participants were sympathetic to the plight of refugees and were seen as a distinct category of migrants. But compassion for refugees was matched by a desire for effective controls of refugee flows into the UK, as well as more rigorous procedures to assess whether asylum-seekers were genuinely fleeing war and persecution. Some interesting findings for refugee advocates include:
• Very few participants (3 out of 572) reported having met refugees. This means that people rely mostly on the media or chance encounters to inform their views. This is relevant to us in City of Sanctuary and our theory of change. The more we can connect local people with refugees the better.
• Public views about refugees seemed to have little to do with numbers of asylum-seekers and refugees living in a particular place – refugee protection was not a more salient issue in dispersal areas than elsewhere.
• A significant concern for many panels was the perception that many asylum-seekers were not genuine and expressed concern that they were drawn to the UK by the perceived generosity of welfare benefits. The awareness raising which we in City of Sanctuary do is important in this regard to help dispel these myths. It is great for audiences to hear directly from sanctuary seekers themselves, many of whom did not expect benefits or that they would be refused the right to work whilst awaiting the outcome of their claim.
• However they did not see access to work as a pull factor encouraging migration to the UK and felt asylum-seekers should be allowed to make an economic contribution.
• This was explored in the survey where 71% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘when people come to the UK seeking asylum it is important they integrate, learn English and get to know people. It would help integration if asylum-seekers were allowed to work if their claim takes more than six months to process.’
• Overall, few citizens’ panels felt that changes to asylum policy would increase their confidence in the Government’s handling of immigration, reflecting the lesser salience of refugee protection compared with migration from the EU.