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Ukraine war did a good thing for world—change its attitude towards refugees, survey shows

Migration has been a major divisive issue in Europe, as the bloc faced mounting pressure from people fleeing conflict in the Middle East. Attitude is now shifting.

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An outpouring of public support across Europe for millions of people fleeing war in Ukraine may point to a shift in attitudes towards refugees as the number of those displaced by conflict or persecution globally has surpassed 100 million, the UNHCR said.

“We are very encouraged,” Gillian Triggs, the U.N. refugee agency’s assistant high commissioner for protection said in a Reuters Newsmaker interview.

More than 6.5 million people have left since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly four months ago, many finding accommodation in private homes or hotels, as well as in government-sponsored housing.

Ipsos survey on attitudes towards refugees

A survey by pollster Ipsos also showed on Friday that the world has become more compassionate towards refugees, a finding it said suggested the war in Ukraine had increased public openness to people fleeing war or oppression.

Some 78% of people in 28 countries believe those escaping conflict or persecution should be able to take refuge in another country, up from 70% in a 2021 survey.

Fewer people also believe borders should be entirely closed to refugees, with 36% agreeing in Friday’s poll, against 50% a year earlier, in part reflecting decreasing concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The UNHCR’s Triggs said some level of fatigue may be setting in and cautioned governments to prepare to rehouse Ukrainians once private accommodation dries up.

“We are seeing this compassion globally for the situation in Ukraine because it is so horrific,” she said. “We are starting to see the burden being passed on to local and national governments.”

She said the experience of helping people fleeing Ukraine should help Europeans prepare for a rise in the number of those leaving home because of climate change in the future.

“Before Ukraine, Europe was definitely not prepared for this,” she said. “(It) was preparing to resist any increase in numbers … I imagine there will be a rethinking what the future will look like. They must plan for a continued movement of people, particularly in relation to climate.”

Migration has been one of the most divisive policy issues in Europe for years, as the bloc faced mounting pressure from people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

The Ipsos survey of attitudes towards refugees polled 20,505 people from 28 countries, including Australia, Argentina, China, France, Britain, Poland, Sweden, Turkey and the United States.

“Attitudes have become more favourable since last year in most of the countries surveyed, suggesting that the Ukraine crisis has increased public openness to refugees and reversed some of the concerns generated by the pandemic,” Ipsos said.

A separate report by the U.N. body showed on Thursday that some 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, abuse and violence at the end of 2021.

Since then, millions more have fled Ukraine or been displaced within its borders, with price hikes linked to blocked grain exports set to stoke more displacement elsewhere.

Justyna Pawlak is Bureau Chief, Central Europe and Nordics, Thomson Reuters

This article has previously appeared in the World Economic Forum.

Also read: Russian army used cyberattacks to target Ukraine & allies amid invasion, says Microsoft study


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