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.S. public believes their country has taken three times 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 to 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.

A number of other key findings were uncovered including:

  • 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 Hillary 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

“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 five[1].


Leadership vacuum

  • 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


About the Aurora Prize Humanitarian Index:

The research was commissioned by the Aurora Prize and conducted by Edelman Intelligence between March and April 2016. Interviews with 4,600 individuals were conducted online across six countries, France, Germany, Iran, Lebanon, U.K., and U.S. The sample was representative of the general population in terms of age, gender and location in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany. It was representative of the online population in Lebanon and Iran; meaning the sample in those countries over-represents educated men.


About the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity

Recipients will be recognized for the exceptional impact their actions have made on preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes. On behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors, an Aurora Prize Laureate will be honored each year with a US$100,000 grant as well as the unique opportunity to continue the cycle of giving by nominating organizations that inspired their work for a US$1,000,000 award.

The Aurora Prize Selection Committee includes Nobel Laureates Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias, Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee; former President of Ireland Mary Robinson; human rights activist Hina Jilani; former Australian Foreign Minister and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group Gareth Evans; President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian; and Academy Award-winning actor and humanitarian George Clooney.

The Aurora Prize will be awarded annually on April 24 in Yerevan, Armenia.

Further information is available at


About Edelman Intelligence:

Edelman Intelligence is a global, full-service market insights and analytics firm that provides corporate, non-profit and government clients with strategic intelligence to make their communications and engagements with stakeholders the smartest they can be. The firm specializes in measurement, tracking and analysis in reputation, branding and communications. Edelman Intelligence is part of Edelman, the world’s largest public relations company. Edelman Intelligence has more than 200 employees and 12 offices around the world.

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[1]French and German publics believe they have hosted 20,000 and 500,000 respectively. The actual figures are 4,000 and 105,000 respectively.