The results of Perceptions of Cypriots about Refugees and Migrants, a study that was undertaken by the University of Cyprus Center for Field Studies (UCFS), for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cyprus were presented this morning. The survey took place between September and December 2018 in order to study perceptions of and attitudes towards refugees and migrants across the divide in Cyprus. This was done through an analysis of public opinion in the two communities of Cyprus around relevant issues. A similar study, Perceptions Matter, was commissioned by UNHCR in 2015; one purpose of the present study was therefore to observe and analyse any changes in attitudes during the three-year period, and highlight any changes observed. UNHCR will use the findings to develop specific and informed strategies in their ongoing protection and advocacy work on the island.
“One of the main challenges in effectively protecting refugees in their reception countries is the public opinion. A new country will only become a new home if refugees feel welcome and accepted. Getting laws and policies right is also vital. But it’s the local people and communities that are on the frontline when refugees arrive, and whose attitude makes the difference between rejection and inclusion; between despair and hope; between being left behind and building a future,” said UNHCR Representative in Cyprus, Katja Saha in her opening remarks.
“Distorted political narratives have led a growing number of people to believe that refugees and migrants are a threat and that they are to blame for a number of social issues. Global statistics tell us that 9 out of 10 refugees globally are hosted in poor and middle- income countries, not in Europe. Yet, European countries including Cyprus feel overburdened with the current refugee flows,” Saha said. “Such worrisome trends of labelling refugees as a threat, have recently been intensified also in the political and public debate in Cyprus. Statements made by politicians or the press, presenting Cyprus as being swamped by refugees; refugees branded as possible terrorists or as a cause for demographic changes on the island are not conducive to a welcoming environment, which is a prerequisite for a smooth integration of refugees.”
“One important positive finding of this survey is that when people get to know refugees they tend to have positive disposition and empathy towards this population. It is the personal story of suffering but also of courage, strength and resilience, that enables hosting communities to feel empathy and understanding,” Saha said. Focusing on key positive findings of the survey, she called on individuals at all levels of society to be properly informed, and to focus attention away from negative narratives and instead towards how to provide asylum-seekers and refugees with adequate and sufficient reception conditions, to end the growing problem of homelessness and to offer protection to the most vulnerable.
“One important positive finding of this survey is that when people get to know refugees they tend to have positive disposition and empathy towards this population.”
The key findings of the study include the following:
- The terms “refugee” and “migrant” are confused by many people. The terms are perceived differently in the Greek Cypriot community than in the Turkish Cypriot community. Moreover there is generally a perception of migrants as being poor people who came to Cyprus in search of a better life.
- In both communities the levels of meaningful contacts between the local population and refugees and/or migrants have increased, compared to the 2015 survey and results. Even though the wider public’s general feelings towards refugees, migrants and the phenomenon of migration in general, are today neutral to negative, compared to 2015, there is a significant improvement of attitudes in both communities.
- Both communities acknowledge that refugees need support and that providing support to refugees is a responsibility of the state.
- As far as integration, despite the concerns expressed by the two communities, the majority of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots support the idea that refugees should be living integrated in the local society, and not be isolated in camps.
- A large percentage from both communities – a percentage that has further increased since 2015 – report that they donated/volunteered in the past or that they are currently donating/ volunteering to organisations assisting refugees. Those who have never done so, nonetheless expressed willingness to do so in the future.
- There is a clear need for the media to differentiate the terms “refugee” and “migrant” while journalists need to be informed of the great negative impact their use of threat frames in their reporting has on attitudes towards the integration of refugees and migrants. Notably, when humanitarian frames are used, the impact has been found to be positive.
See below the full Report