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The BBC's Emma Howard reports
"Many people grossly overestimated the financial aid an asylum seeker gets"
 real 56k

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth
Unquestionably a flood of refugees
 real 28k

Monday, 23 October, 2000, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Public 'misinformed' on refugees
Asylum seekers
Asylum seekers receive 36 in vouchers per week
Most British adults grossly overestimate the help refugees get from the government, according to a survey.

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

But the average respondent also assumed 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 converted into cash.

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

'Worrying implications'

Eight out of 10 believe 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%
Reader's Digest editor-in-chief, Russell Twisk, 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 20% of the population are "immigrants", having moved to this country in the last 10 years. 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.

What is clear is that the public are badly misinformed

Nick Hardwick, Refugee Council

"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," he said.

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, told the BBC people were unquestionably concerned about asylum-seekers.

He said: "It's a very legitimate matter of public policy how we address what is unquestionably a flood of refugees.

"If you look at the position: about 1985 we had something like 4,000 applications for asylum in the United Kingdom. Last year there were 70,000.

"If I can put that in perspective: that is one parliamentary constituency in one year - that is the size of a large town."

The survey found those most likely to think "too much is done to help immigrants and asylum seekers" were over 65 and Conservative supporters. The North East also had the highest level of antipathy towards asylum seekers.

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