The number of immigrants moving to and settling in Europe has increased over the past decade. So has the openness of Europeans to migrants and especially to refugees. Perhaps surprisingly, despite the rhetoric spouted by some politicians, voters have not turned against people immigrating or seeking asylum, neither after the 2008 economic crisis nor following the large numbers of refugee arrivals in 2015. In fact, most Europeans support the reception of refugees in Europe, but want them to be allocated fairly between Member States. Indeed, more and more EU citizens recognise the cultural and economic benefits of immigration and, in turn, people with a migrant background are better integrated in countries with inclusive policies. Nevertheless, policy-makers remain reluctant to implement welcoming measures.
On World Refugee Day, we wonder why politicians are less bold than their constituents.
Trends extracted from recent survey data disprove the argument that the rising support for the far-right is due to a radical change of heart among Europeans. Instead, closer analysis reveals that the recent large numbers of arrivals have only mobilised a specific sub-group of the population, namely those who already viewed socio-demographic change as a risk to social order. In other words, it has politicised far-right voters.
It appears that Europeans are not only more open to immigration and asylum, they have also become more polarised: voters on the left of the political spectrum living in urban areas tend to know more immigrants, better see the opportunities they bring and want greater integration, while voters on the right living in culturally homogeneous regions tend to over-estimate immigration flows and their possible threats in terms of crime, competition and culture.
Beyond this dichotomy, research shows that regardless of their country’s economic situation, Europeans (72%) of all ages, education levels and across the political spectrum support a fair allocation of refugees based on a country’s reception capacity (population size, GDP, employment rate and number of asylum applications). Furthermore, the majority (56%) remain in favour of proportional allocation even when informed that such a system would likely increase the intake of asylum seekers in their own country.
An allocation mechanism based on Member States’ reception capacity is exactly what the temporary EU relocation scheme provides. However, despite public support for such a system, only some 20,000 refugees out of the initial target of 160,000 have been relocated since 2015. This is mainly because mainstream politicians fear a backlash from vocal far-right colleagues and voters if they publicly support the entry of refugees. Hence, the Dublin System, which allocates asylum seekers based on the “first point of entry,” remains the status quo.
As this latest research shows, voters are generally inclined to continue to support an open Europe. Governments therefore need to build on this and, rather than inciting fear and distrust, put in place inclusive policies that will further strengthen public support for immigration. This call is made all the stronger when viewed in conjunction with other studies that underline how immigrants living in inclusive countries with strong anti-discrimination laws have a greater sense of belonging and feel as patriotic as the local population.
On World Refugee Day, we therefore urge politicians across Europe to listen to their voters, to respect relocation quotas and to reform EU asylum rules for a fairer system. In short, to be as bold as their constituents!