Despite what their governments might say, citizens around the world are overwhelmingly open to the idea of helping refugees.
That's according to the results of a new survey by Amnesty International that sought to determine just how close ordinary people would be willing to get to the refugee crisis -- asking if they would be willing to take refugees into their country, city, neighborhood, or home.
The Refugees Welcome Index, released on May 19, found that 80 percent of those surveyed would welcome refugees to the greater (own household) or lesser (country) degree, with overall acceptance levels highest in Spain and Germany and lowest in Russia.
Expressing willingness does not equal commitment to actually bringing refugees under one's roof, of course. But the survey reveals a stark contrast between what Amnesty calls the often "inhumane responses" by governments to the current refugee crisis -- often based on the argument that they cannot accept more refugees because their citizens would not allow it -- and what the findings say are citizens' actual opinions on the matter.
The survey was commissioned by the London-based Amnesty amid a refugee crisis that last year saw more than 1 million people flee Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries for Europe.
The results, Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty said ahead of the release of the findings, laid bare "the shameful way governments have played short-term politics with the lives of people fleeing war and repression" and suggests that politicians "too often...use xenophobic, antirefugee rhetoric to chase approval ratings."
The survey of 27,000 people in 27 countries contained results that some might find surprising.
The world's most populous country, China, was among the most welcoming to refugees. Nearly half of respondents in the country -- which currently boasts the world's lowest number of migrants as a percentage of total population -- said they would accept refugees into their own homes. Second place in that category was taken by citizens of Great Britain, with 29 percent.
Citizens of Germany, which has by far taken in the largest share of refugees in Europe amid the current crisis, have remained staunchly in favor of helping refugees. More than half of the Germans surveyed, 56 percent, said they would accept refugees in their neighborhood, tops among all countries surveyed. Only one in 10 would welcome refugees into their homes, however.
Amnesty’s deputy director for global campaigns, Marek Marczynski, said the numbers show that the authorities in many countries present a distorted narrative of reality.
"Now it's the time for the politicians to start asking people, 'What is it that you really think?'" Marczynski said. "And if they really did the same exercise as we did, then they would know what actually people really believe and what is what they want to see happening."
Russia, with 61 percent of participants saying they would refuse refugees entry into the country, was the most unwelcoming country surveyed.
Denis Krivosheyev, Amnesty’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, told RFE/RL that, while Russia's attitude was "quite disappointing if not shocking," it was not completely surprising given the high levels of racism and xenophobia there.
Russia ranked third in the world by number of migrants in 2015, however, with a total of 11.5 million, and Krivosheyev suggested that the Amnesty survey might have exposed citizens' frustrations.
"Disappointingly, they [numbers of refugees] seem to be going higher and the government’s response isn't addressing these feelings," he said.
Krivosheyev also noted that the Russian government has used the refugee crisis in Europe as scaremongering in its campaign against the West.
"The state-controlled media, which is now all of the mainstream media, does make a big story consistently of the migrant crisis in Europe, which it portrays as: 'Look, these are the problems you get if you abide by Western values,' and generally portrays this as a kind of Western decay," Krivosheyev said.
He said that even attitudes in Russia toward the estimated 1 million refugees from the war in eastern Ukraine -- who at first were received with open arms in Russia -- are now beginning to change.
Amnesty International released the index ahead of next week’s World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (May 23-24), and is urging summit participants to accept a UN proposal that calls on countries to share responsibilities in hosting and assisting refugees.
Amnesty International is also calling on the summit to also help resettle 1.2 million refugees by the end of next year, as opposed to the current 100,000 that governments are currently taking annually.