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The BBC's Emma Howard reports
"Many people grossly overestimated the financial aid an asylum seeker gets"
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The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy
"80% of people surveyed believe refugees come to England because they regard it as a "soft touch"
 real 28k

Gerald Howarth MP & Refugee Council's Nick Hardwick
in debate
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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 01:00 GMT 02:00 UK
Public view of refugees 'misinformed'
Asylum seekers
Asylum seekers receive 36 in vouchers per week
Most British adults grossly overestimate the help that refugees get from the government, according to a survey.

The study for Reader's Digest magazine found that 63% thought too much was done to assist asylum seekers in Britain.

What is clear is that the public are badly misinformed

Nick Hardwick, Refugee Council
But the average respondent also assumed that refugees were given 113 a week to live on whereas in reality a single adult receives 36 in vouchers to be spent in designated stores. Only 10 can be coverted into cash.

The Mori survey of 2,118 adults also revealed mistaken attitudes to Britain's racial mix - the average person thought that 26% of the population is from an ethnic minority but the true figure is 7%.

'Worrying implications'

Eight out of 10 believe that refugees come to Britain because they regard it as "a soft touch" and two thirds (66%) thought there were too many immigrants.

Key findings
'Britain is a soft touch' - 80%
'There are too many immigrants in Britain' - 66%
'Too much is done to help immigrants and asylum seekers' - 63%
Russell Twisk, Reader's Digest editor-in-chief, said: "This widespread resentment of immigrants and asylum-seekers has worrying implications in a society that has traditionally prided itself on its racial tolerance.

"Do these attitudes reveal a deep-seated xenophobia or are they fuelled by segments of the media that can be accused of turning a normal trend into a perceived crisis?"

On average the public estimates that 20% of the population are immigrants. The real figure is around 4%.

'Not surprising'

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "This survey makes depressing reading, but it is not surprising that, fed on a constant diet of prejudice, the public are hostile towards refugees and asylum seekers.

"What is clear is that the public are badly misinformed.

"We must all redouble our efforts to explain the truth - that refugees are fleeing life-threatening situations, that last year 54% of initial asylum decisions were positive, that asylum seekers are given the bare minimum on which to survive.

"Politicians and the media have a particular responsibility to ensure that the asylum debate is based on the facts, not fiction.

"The positive leadership taken during the Kosovan crisis last year shows that, when given the facts, the public are overwhelmingly supportive and compassionate."

The survey found that those most likely to think that "too much is done to help immigrants and asylum seekers" are aged 65+, living in the north east and to be Conservative supporters.

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06 May 00 | Europe
Starting over in Kosovo
01 Apr 00 | Europe
On the migrant trail
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