German public opinion on admitting refugees

Jürgen Gerhards, Silke Hans, and Jürgen Schupp


This paper discusses German public attitudes to admitting refugees. The paper presents descriptive statistics from the Barometer of Public Opinion on Refugees in Germany, which is a representative survey of around 2,000 German residents in March 2016.

Main findings:

  • Approximately three-quarters of respondents think refugees bring more risks than opportunities for Germany, at least in the short term. Around half of all respondents think that refugees pose a threat to German cultural life and core values.
  • Nevertheless, a majority of respondents favor temporarily admitting refugees and persecuted peoples in accordance with international law. Over 80 percent of respondents agree that people who seek refuge in Germany due to armed conflict in their country of origin should receive subsidiary protection. Over 60 percent of respondents think that persons who are protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention (i.e., all reasons for seeking asylum) should be admitted into Germany.
  • Some respondents do not deem all reasons for seeking asylum set out in the Convention as equally legitimate. For example, 74 percent or respondents agree that people persecuted for their involvement in human rights activities should be admitted to Germany, but only 49 percent think that people persecuted for labor union activity should be given asylum. Respondents are more likely to think that persecuted Christians should be granted asylum, compared with persecuted ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and Muslims.
  • Most respondents think that the obligation to assist refugees no long­er applies if the reason for fleeing ceases to exist. Over half of respondents think that refugees should be repatriated to their country of origin if the situation there has sufficiently improved, and less than a third think individuals should be allowed to remain in Germany.

Overall, the German public’s willingness to accept asylum seekers is high across all groups of the population, despite concerns about the disadvantages and risks for Germany associated with a refugee presence. The authors conclude that “willingness to admit refugees is based less on self-interest and considerations of the benefits than on a normative imperative to provide protection for those in need.”