Irish people ‘most sympathetic’ to Syrian refugees in EU

International research finds different attitudes towards migrants in Europe’s east and west

Irish people have been ranked as the most sympathetic towards Syrian refugees arriving in their country in a poll of 12 European nations.

The International Rescue Committee's (IRC) research into public sympathy towards Syrian refugees, published on Friday, shows nearly nine out of 10 respondents in Ireland (87 per cent) expressed some degree of sympathy towards Syrian refugees arriving in the State. Ireland was followed by Spain (86 per cent), Germany (84 per cent) and Portugal (84 per cent).

The research shows 39 per cent of Irish people voiced concern about refugees placing pressure on the State’s welfare system, while 36 per cent worried that refugees would put pressure on public services such as education, health and housing.

A total of 27 per cent of Irish people surveyed said it would cost the Government too much money to take care or refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.


Only three out of 10 of the more than 12,500 Europeans surveyed identified national security as one of their top three concerns about refugees coming to their country. In Ireland, less than one in four said refugees were a risk to the State’s security.

The survey was carried out by Ipsos Mori in August 2016 in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom with an average of 1,050 people surveyed in each country.

However, attitudes towards refugees in the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia were noticeably more negative with 61 per cent of Czechs expressing concern that refugees posed a risk to national security. Some 54 per cent of those surveyed in the Czech Republic said refugees would increase crime rates followed by 47 per cent in Slovakia and 41 per cent in Romania.

The overall findings of the data show that levels of sympathy towards Syrian refugees are generally high across Europe with three out of four people expressing some degree of compassion towards refugees.

‘Clear call’

Chief executive of the IRC David Miliband argued that the study's findings reveal the vast majority of Europeans have "not lost their hearts" and that there is "a clear call here for governments to combine compassion with competence in responding to the refugee crisis".

The committee is calling for European leaders to resettle 50 per cent of all Syrian refugees or 25 per cent of all refugees globally, which means 540,000 people over five years or 108,000 per year, a number calculated by taking into account the population and GDP of each country.

If that target was to be met Ireland would need to settle a total of 6,116 refugees or 1,223 annually.

According to the Department of Justice, about 520 refugees are to be resettled in Ireland by December 31st. Of these, 377 people have already been admitted to the State. In addition to this 520, the Government recently announced it would extend its resettlement programme to take in a further 260 refugees from Lebanon in 2017.

A total of 69 Syrian people have been accepted into Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme relocation strand, which deals with the transfer of refugees from other EU countries such as Greece. A further 40 people have been assessed and cleared for arrival in the State as soon as possible, while 63were recently interviewed by department officials in Athens in preparation for their travel to Ireland.

A statement from the department reports that it expects the State to have accepted “up to 360 people” under relocation by the end of 2016.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast