Public views on asylum and refugee policies similar across European countries

Europeans want to protect refugees, but prefer policies that use limits and conditions, according to an analysis of the attitudes of 12,000 people across European countries towards asylum and refugee policies.

The study, a first in its kind, found that Europeans are most likely to support policies that prioritise conditional and limited protection for asylum seekers and refugees.

Researchers at the European University Institute (EUI) and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) surveyed 12,000 people in eight EU Member States: Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

The researchers looked at the structure of asylum and refugee policy preferences across six policy dimensions. They studied the regulation of applications for asylum, resettlement of recognised refugees and the return of unsuccessful asylum seekers to countries where they could face serious harm. Furthermore, they also addressed family reunification for refugees, national and EU decision-making and financial assistance for non-EU countries hosting refugees. The researchers collected insights on how preferences depend on the design of the asylum and refugee policies, in particular on the use of limits and conditions.

They found similar preferences for protection with limits and conditions in all eight countries surveyed, including in Hungary, a country with a government well known for its anti-refugee policy positions.

This type of analysis of asylum and refugee policies is new. There has been plenty of research in recent years on public attitudes to immigration and migrants in general, less on attitudes to asylum seekers and refugees, and near to none on what Europeans think about different dimensions of asylum and refugee policies. This new research can help inform ongoing policy debates on how to reform asylum and refugee policies in Europe and beyond. Migration is on the agenda for the European Interior Ministers’ meeting on 7-8 October in Luxembourg and the EU Council in Brussels on 17-18 October.

Co-author Martin Ruhs of the Migration Policy Centre at the EUI’s Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies said: 

“We often hear that Europeans are hopelessly divided when it comes to asylum and refugee policies. In contrast, our new research shows remarkable similarities in policy attitudes across European countries: Europeans want to protect asylum seekers and refugees but they prefer policies that use limits and conditions. Policy makers should take note that people across European countries are more united than divided on this issue.”

The study is part of the Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and Migration, financed by Stiftung Mercator, and will be presented at the MEDAM conference on 16 October at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels.

Read the working paper ‘What asylum and refugee policies do Europeans want? Evidence from a cross-national conjoint experiment’, by Anne-Marie Jeannet, Esther Ademmer, Martin Ruhs and Tobias Stöhr.