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More than half of British public overestimate number of immigrants in the UK

By January 9, 2012November 1st, 2016Press release

Following the publication of British Future’s ‘Hopes and Fears’ poll in The Observer on Sunday, further statistics from the think-tank’s report reveal a wide gap between public attitudes and reality on immigration, with stark implications for policy makers.

Only one in eight people got the right answer for the proportion of immigrants in the UK population, at between 11 and 15%.

Over half of people guess too high, overestimating the number of immigrants in the UK.

When it comes to refugees — people who have been granted asylum following persecution and conflict abroad — ‘many people wildly and worrying exaggerate the scale of asylum’, according to the report. Almost four out of ten people believe that more than 10% of the population are refugees. And one in 20 believe more than half of us in Britain today have been granted asylum.

In reality, refugees make up less than 0.4% of the UK population.

The findings question political responses to public calls for lower immigration, suggesting that public concern about the number of immigrants and refugees in the UK may be misplaced.

Commenting, Refugee Action Chief Executive Dave Garratt said:

“Today’s poll reveals huge misunderstandings on how many immigrants, and particularly refugees and asylum seekers, are in the UK. It’s time to arm ourselves with facts and end the fear around this important issue.

“The ‘get tough’ measures from politicians of all hues has failed to reassure anyone concerned about immigration. Scare-mongering by tabloids, and knee-jerk responses from leaders, must end. Instead of encouraging people to view immigration only as a problem, it’s time for an honest debate between all parties, which should include immigration’s big benefits.

“For refugees, those who have fled terrifying situations abroad, the landscape is particularly worrying. When conflicts break out abroad, the UK needs to be ready to offer sanctuary to those in need. The UK hosts relatively few refugees, and the public have an important part to play in welcoming them to safety”.


For more information please contact Julia Ravenscroft, media officer
at Refugee Action, on 0161 831 5454 / 07771 748 159 or

Notes to editors:

  • ‘Poll reveals Briton”s secret fears and hopes for 2012’ — Observer Sunday 8th January 2012
  • Full report, ‘Hopes and Fears’ will be available on British Future website from 00:01 Monday 9th January 2012
  • UK refugee population is 238,100 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (2011) — ‘Global Trends 2010’, calculation based on UK population of 62.3million
  • Refugee Action is an independent, national charity working to enable refugees to build new lives. We provide practical advice and assistance for newly arrived asylum seekers and long-term commitment to their settlement through community development work, and received 30,000 visits from asylum seekers last year. As one of the country’s leading agencies in the field, Refugee Action has 30 years’ experience in pioneering innovative work in partnership with refugees.