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Awareness among Bulgarians about refugee-related issues decreases significantly, a new study shows

Awareness about refugees is very low and decreases further over the years. This is one of the main findings presented by UNHCR Bulgaria in their latest study on public opinions on refugee-related issues published on 11 November 2020.

This year the report consists of two separate analysis done by UNHCR in 2019 and the Bulgarian Academy of Science in 2020. In 2020, the share of Bulgarians who are completely uninformed about refugees reached 87.9% compared to 78% in 2019 and 63.7% in 2018. The majority of Bulgarians (90.9%) do not maintain contact with refugees in 2020, and 76.8% have never met a refugee.

Some of the main findings are:
•    Awareness among Bulgarians of refugee-related issues decreased significantly;
•    Most Bulgarians have never communicated with refugees;
•    The decline in awareness of refugees and a lack of first-hand information leads to attitudes based on well-established stereotypes and information shared by the media;
•    Bulgarians demonstrate a higher tolerance of refugees than of migrants;
•    A fear that refugees might spread disease decreased in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic;
•    Bulgarians in general do not express xenophobic attitudes towards refugees.

"There is a lost connection between Bulgarians and refugees. Due to the lack of direct contacts with refugees, the attitudes of Bulgarians are mainly based not on personal impressions, but on information shared by the media. In this sense, the media play a central role in shaping public opinion about refugees, while at the same time being responsible for providing reliable information on the subject in accordance with the professional principles of journalism” says Narasimha Rao, UNHCR Representative in Bulgaria.

Both surveys indicate that Bulgarians do not show xenophobia in their treatment of refugees. 51.5% describe their attitude towards them as "neither positive nor negative". Regarding the integration of refugees, social skills are more important for Bulgarians than anthropological characteristics, such as skin color or race. 84% say it is most important for refugees to "accept the local way of life" (84%), 80% say they need to "have professional skills" and 77% think they need to "support themselves".

The main fears about refugees are: fear of committing crimes, fear of spreading cultural and religious beliefs, fear of spreading diseases. In the year in which the world lives in a pandemic, fears that refugees may spread disease have dropped to their lowest level in two years (32%)

The surveys show a tendency towards a more tolerant attitude towards asylum seekers’ right to work and the possibility for refugees to bring their relatives to the country. Bulgarians are more tolerant and willing to support refugees than economic migrants. According to the survey in 2020, 62% of Bulgarians would accept people fleeing war and persecution in their countries of origin.

Both UNHCR and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences surveys use the same methodology. Both apply a quantitative survey among 1000+ respondents aged between 18 and 61 with different socio-demographic characteristics, as well as a qualitative survey - focus group discussions - in different Bulgarian cities. The aim of the research is to study the attitudes of the Bulgarian society towards refugees and the respective influencing factors.

Survey on public attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers in Bulgaria 2019 – 2020

Bistra Ivanovna
Multi Kulti Colllective