Refugees welcome?’ The interplay between perceived threats and general concerns on the acceptance of refugees – a factorial survey approach in Germany

Hagen von Hermanni and Robert Neumann

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Volume 45, Issue 3 (2019), Pages 349-374


This article explores attitudes to asylum seekers in Dresden, Germany.

The analysis is based on online surveys of over 1,000 residents conducted in Dresden in the first half of 2016. In addition to collecting information on local safety concerns and overall wellbeing, respondents were presented with 12 vignettes, each describing a (fictive) refugee with characteristics varying across several dimensions (sex, whether they had children, age, religion, origin, and reason for flight). For each vignette, respondents were asked to rate the application for asylum as being either justified or not justified, using a seven-point scale.

Main findings:

  • Cause of flight was the most important ascribed characteristic of refugees when respondents judge asylum applications. Political persecution and war were the causes of flight that generated the highest approval ratings of refugees. Natural disasters and poverty were perceived as the least justified causes of flight and for applying for asylum.
  • Potential threats due to religious affiliation or cultural dissimilarity did not have the expected effect on approval ratings of refugees.
  • Acceptance of refugees from Eastern Europe was significantly lower than for Africa and the Middle East. This counterintuitive result may be due to the already high percentage of immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Greater Dresden.
  • Refugees of Muslim faith did not generate lower approval rates in comparison to refugees of Christian faith or non-denominational refugees.
  • Sex of asylum seekers and family status affected approval ratings. Refugees with children and female refugees generated higher levels of approval of asylum application.
  • Respondents’ general economic, fiscal and crime concerns moderated the acceptance of refugees. Fear of crime, economic concerns about the decline in living conditions, and fiscal concerns had a strong negative effect on the judgments by respondents. Fear of crime appears to be the most important moderator for acceptance levels.

The results indicate the persistence of a public consensus about the eligibility of refugees that is in accordance with German asylum laws (i.e., privileging the asylum claims of people fleeing war and political persecution). In their conclusion, the authors also highlight the importance of efforts to mitigate general economic, fiscal and crime concerns, which were shown to affect attitudes towards refugees.