Global study of top humanitarian issues, their causes, and intervention strategy reveals stark “compassion gap.”
“Compassion Gap” Arises between Desire to Help Syrian Refugees and Willingness to Take Action
- The public disproportionately associates the global refugee crisis with the situation in Syria, demonstrating ignorance of other refugee crises including Myanmar, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- The majority of respondents believe that international institutions are best placed to solve the refugee crisis, yet half feel refugees have been abandoned by the international community
- When it comes to identifying international leaders most capable of managing the Syrian crisis Barack Obama (46%) and Angela Merkel (46%) score the highest, followed by Vladimir Putin (33%) and David Cameron (28%) with Hilary Clinton (17%) and Donald Trump (9%) trailing far behind
- The public feels compassion for refugees, but only half would help Syrian refugees if they could, and most question their ability to make a real difference
- The findings will be presented at the Aurora Dialogues—a global gathering of the humanitarian community in Yerevan, Armenia on April 23, 2016—and in conjunction with the announcement of the first Aurora Prize Laureate
April 22, 2016 – Today, the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity unveiled the results of the first annual Humanitarian Index, a global study of the top humanitarian issues, their causes and who is best positioned to address them at the Aurora Dialogues conference in Yerevan, Armenia. The 4,600 respondents in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Lebanon and Iran all cited terrorism as the number one most pressing humanitarian challenge now and for the next five years, followed by forced migration.
The research reveals a gulf between perception and reality on a number of fronts with American, British and French publics underestimating the number of Syrian refugees by staggering amounts (4.7 million, 4.5 million and 4.5 million respectively). Americans are similarly out of step with the rest of the world in their overall concern for forced migration, ranking it a distant seventh among the list of the world's most pressing humanitarian challenges.
On the issue of forced migration, many Western publics believe their governments have done more than enough to offer refuge to those in need. The U.K. public believes their country has taken twice as many Syrian refugees as they actually have. In France and Germany, estimates of the number of Syrians given asylum due to conflict are five times greater than the actual figures.
"The global refugee crisis will only get worse unless world leaders agree better coordinated and principled action, and are buttressed by a better-informed public awareness of its true causes and dimensions,” commented Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President of the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict-prevention organization. “Frontline states taking in refugees from neighboring wars are overwhelmed by the economic, social, human rights, political and security implications of rapid, massive influxes of people. Any failure to address the situation risks further conflict, triggering further refugee flows and increasing the scale of the humanitarian tragedy. Ultimately, any credible response to the crisis must address its principal driver – an upsurge in wars".
The Humanitarian Index demonstrates the existence of a “compassion gap” – a large imbalance between what people say and feel versus what they would be willing to do. One in two respondents feel that refugees have been abandoned by the international community, and the vast majority agree that refugees deserve help. However, only one in two would actually help Syrian refugees if they could, and most doubt their ability to make a real difference.
“What this report highlights is the urgent need to inform the public of the global refugee crisis; the defining humanitarian challenge of our time. A passionate and mobilized public is critical to both ensuring support for the investment necessary to alleviate human suffering and also to hold political leadership accountable for tackling the root causes of the crisis,” said Dominic MacSorley, Chief Executive Officer of Concern Worldwide, a charity that works with the world's poorest people to transform their lives.
Misinformation and cynicism dominate public perceptions about refugees, with the majority of the public confusing refugees with economic and other types of migrants. In Western countries, nearly the same number of people believe that asylum seekers move for aspirational reasons as those who believe they are doing so to escape conflict (63% and 70% respectively).
The research also uncovers some of the triggers that spur people to take action. Twenty-seven percent of those who have been compelled to take action on behalf of refugees have largely done so after hearing about a personal story and there is an overwhelming curiosity (close to 40%) to discover more stories about real individuals.
“What is encouraging is that the research shows that although individuals might struggle to turn compassion into action, the public realizes that those humanitarians who do intervene on behalf of others can have a tremendous impact,” said Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Co-Founder of 100 LIVES and a member of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee. “The Aurora Prize is about recognizing and celebrating these individuals for risking it all for the sake of others. By showing the impact one person’s actions can have, it is our hope that others will be compelled to act, too.”
Other findings from the Humanitarian Index include:
Syria has become synonymous with the global refugee crisis
- Globally, the public believes Syria is the country from which the most refugees have fled over the last decade. However, the public is not aware of the high volumes of refugees originating from various countries across Africa and Asia.
- Despite more than one million refugees coming from Sudan and South Sudan combined, only 8% of the public recognize the scale of the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.
- One in five Americans incorrectly pinpoint Mexico as the highest source of refugees globally, while Britain and France both overestimate the volume of refugees coming from Libya.
Safe refuge and scale of the crisis
- The public underplays the role of neighboring countries in taking refugees. Only 15% correctly identify Turkey as the country with the highest intake of refugees globally, and only 2% recognize Pakistan’s role in offering safe refuge.
- In contrast, the public exaggerates the number of Syrian refugees their country has hosted. Both French and German publics overstate the volume of refugees taken in by their respective countries by a factor of five1.
- Global publics overwhelmingly agree (70%) that it is down to international bodies to resolve the global refugee crisis, yet one in two believe the international community has turned its back on Syrians.
- The international leadership vacuum extends as far as world leaders who, according to respondents, are failing to adequately address the Syrian crisis. There is general agreement across all those surveyed that the top three leaders deemed most capable of addressing the crisis are Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. This means that the French have placed more faith in Angela Merkel than Francois Hollande (51% vs. 36% respectively) and the British believe Merkel is just as capable as David Cameron (41% vs.39%, respectively) to address the crisis.
- United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon scored well in Lebanon (39%) and Iran (37%), but U.S. presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton (23%) and Donald Trump (16%) fell way behind other world leaders amongst American audiences.
Helping is a badge of honor
Despite inertia and cynicism, the public sees helping as a badge of honor. Seventy-one percent of the public have great respect for individuals who travel to conflict areas to deliver humanitarian aid and 69% believe it takes great courage for aid workers to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people who need it most, despite risks to themselves. As they assess their personal sense of responsibility, 49% of those who have abstained from taking action have done so due to concerns about how their monetary contribution will be used.
The public are generally aligned on what it would take to foster further action:
- A clear sense of individual responsibility to help
- Transparency with regard to the use of donations
- Creating a global community that rewards those delivering humanitarian aid