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Predominantly positive: Study traces attitudes towards refugees in Germany

The attitudes of people in Germany towards refugees are highly differentiated. The majority of residents accepts the accommodation of refugees in their neighborhoods.

The results of the Cologne Refugee Studies conducted at the University’s Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology show a largely positive attitude towards refugees among the German population. A research group led by Professor Juergen Friedrichs, Felix Lesske and Vera Schwarzenberg interviewed around 2,200 residents of three cities (two residential districts per city) where refugees have been housed since the summer of 2015, which saw a massive influx of refugees to Germany: Hamburg (districts Harvestehude and Bergedorf), Cologne (districts Ostheim and Rondorf) and Mülheim an der Ruhr (districts Mitte and Saarn). The survey was conducted in two steps: the first as oral interviews from spring 2016 to winter 2017 and the second in the form of questionnaires sent out in the spring of 2018. Among other things, the second survey shows that positive attitudes towards refugees remained stable over time.

47.3 percent of the respondents felt sympathy for refugees in Germany and 26.5 percent had a positive view of refugees. Only 5.1 percent stated that they had a negative attitude towards refugees. However, 10 percent of the respondents found that too many refugees have been admitted and a further 12.1 percent called for stronger immigration controls.

Taking into account only the positive responses, the two rather prosperous areas Hamburg Harvestehude and Cologne Rondorf totaled 80 percent and 84 percent, respectively, positive statements in the two surveys. Mülheim Mitte and Cologne Ostheim on the other hand, the two less prosperous areas, exhibited 62 percent and 67 percent positive statements, respectively. This shows that there are differences between residential areas depending on social status. The social status was measured, among other factors, by the educational level of its residents.

A number of other questions targeted attitudes towards refugee housing in people’s own neighborhoods. ‘We first assumed that even though a person might generally view refugees positively, they would not accept refugee housing on their own doorstep. However, this is not the case’, says Juergen Friedrich, the lead author of the study. In total, 72 percent (with multiple answers) gave positive answers, only 6 percent were opposed to refugee housing in their neighborhoods. In the second survey, these positive tendencies are even more pronounced. Overall, the rate of positive responses is 94.9 percent. This suggests that the already high acceptance of refugee accommodation in one’s district increased over time as the refugees moved in, local residents became familiar with them and had positive experiences. Potential fears do not seem to have been confirmed.

An important event for the attitude towards refugees was the assaults on women on New Year’s Eve 2015/16 in Cologne and other cities. To the question, ‘Did the events of New Year's Eve 2015/16 at Cologne Central Station change your attitude towards refugees?’, 32.1 percent answered ‘yes’, another 8.8 percent ‘temporarily’ and 59 percent ‘no’.

The research team also traced a development of fears and anxieties and analysed the influence of direct social contacts with refugees. A detailed breakdown of the results and further information on the study (in German) can be found here:


Media Enquiries:  
Professor Juergen Friedrichs
+49 221 470-5658

Felix Lesske

Vera Schwarzenberg


Press and Communications Team:
Jan Voelkel
+49 221 470-2356