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Kantar survey for UNHCR: Majority of Poles now in favour of accepting refugees

A majority of Poles declares a favourable attitude towards accepting refugees in the country, according to a recent survey conducted by Kantar for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in January 2021.

According to the latest research, the vast majority of Poles are convinced that refugees should be supported, and they are ready to provide the help needed to do so. As many as 77% of the respondents agreed with the statement that Poland should support those who are forced to flee their country. Poles realize that special assistance programmes (such as learning Polish) are necessary for this, which would facilitate adaptation to life in the new reality. Moreover, they largely sympathize with the refugees and are aware that they had to leave their country due to conflicts, hunger or persecution. Respondents also recognize that immigrants can constitute an increase in the workforce. They were almost as commonly convinced that accepting refugees can enrich the cultural life, making society more open to new ideas, and that they should be given the same opportunities as Poles. The term "refugee" is most often associated with war, fleeing the country, bad financial situation and the need to obtain help.

As for the reasons for such a support, 63% agree that refugees “can increase our country’s workforce, which is useful with an ageing society”, up to 62% of Poles agree with the statement that “Poland should willingly receive refugees, because we would also want to be well treated”, while 61% of Poles are in favour of accepting refugees because Poles themselves were refugees at one time and were welcomed by other countries.

Interestingly, despite the favourable attitude, almost half of the respondents were not able to correctly estimate the number of people who applied for refugee status in the last year - only 28% of the respondents correctly indicated the numerical range between 1,000 and 10,000 (it was 2,803). At the same time, most of the respondents claimed that the number of such applications has increased in recent years, which is also not in line with the actual situation (as it has dropped significantly).

The findings from the UNHCR survey demonstrate a radical change compared to previous studies, which mostly stated that, on average, around 55-65% of the Polish population, in relation to both cultural and economic reasons, was opposed to the idea of accepting refugees. Based on the results of the latest research, it can be concluded that Poles are no longer afraid of refugees and the situation is returning to the norms from before the humanitarian crisis that hit Europe at the turn of 2015/2016. 

According to the survey conducted by the Public Opinion Research Centre in June 2015, 76% of respondents believed that Poland should accept refugees and provide them with assistance until they could return to their country of origin (54% of votes). On the other hand, 22% supported the idea of permanently settling refugees in Poland. This enthusiasm was much greater towards people from Ukraine (46% of respondents expressed their support) than towards people from the Middle East and Africa (33% expressed their support).

According to CBOS - already in December 2016, the attitudes toward refugees changed significantly: 54% of Poles expressed opposition to accepting refugees in Poland, and only 4% said that we should allow for permanent settlement. We can however notice that the positive attitude in relation to refugees from Ukraine increased (58% expressed support) and decreased towards those from the Middle East and Africa (here 28% expressed their support).

The current research results show a similarity to 2015, when the migration crisis in Europe did not yet have such a large impact on the perception of refugee issues and the attitude of Poles was largely friendly. Since then, the results of the polls have worsened year by year, until 2021, which marks significant shift in public sentiment and gives great hope for an improvement in the future.

SOURCES (in Polish):

Kantar Survey for UNHCR January 2021
CBOS Survey June 2015
CBOS Survey December 2016

Alicja Szczutowska
NIEM’s National Coalition Officer
The Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs