Fear of refugees – what lies behind it

There is a widespread fear of refugees among the Czech population which runs through all sections of society. It would be a big mistake, however, for this fear of refugees to be seen in isolation. The predominant issue is rather a fear of the spread of Islam in this country, a fear of an escalation in Islamic fundamentalism and its link to terrorism and organised crime. The current irrational, emotion-based and unstructured fear of this whole set of risks is weakening our anchoring in the European Union and also calls into question the results of the country’s post-November 1989 development.

The STEM survey cited here was carried out on a representative sample of the Czech population aged 18 and up from 18 to 28 September 2015. Respondents were selected using a quota sampling method, with some 925 people taking part in the survey.

In the September survey, STEM focused in greater detail on the perception of the refugee crisis and attempted to analyse the thematic areas linked to the fear of refugees. At present roughly two-thirds of the population have a fear of refugees. However, Czechs consider the spread of Islam in this country to present an even greater threat, with over eighty percent of the population fearing the spread of Islam.

Fear of Refugees and Islam

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

As expected, the fear of refugees and the fear of the spread of Islam are related to the age and education of the respondents: older people and the less educated expressed greater levels of fear. These differences are not so significant but are apparent nonetheless.

A fear of the spread of Islam in particular pervades the different groups in our society. The large majority of Czech citizens express a fear of Islam, irrespective of age and educational attainment.

Comparison of fear of refugees and of Islam by age group

(total percentage „definitely yes“ + „more likely yes“)

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

Comparison of fear of refugees and of Islam by education

(total percentage „definitely yes“ + „more likely yes“)

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

If we combine the two types of fear, this serves the basis for a simple typology. Some 30% of the Czech public have a very intense fear of Islam and of refugees. A further roughly one third of the population has significant concerns, but this is not actual fear. Almost one-fifth fears the spread of Islam but does not make an unequivocal connection between Islam and the influx of refugees. Only roughly one fifth of the population fears neither refugees nor the spread of Islam in the Czech Republic.

Typology of the fear of refugees and the spread of Islam in the Czech Republic

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

A deeper analysis of the different fears of the Czech population, published in its basic form by our institute on 15 October 2015, indicates that for many people the fear of refugees is a mere substitute for the fear of terrorism, international organised crime and Islamic fundamentalism. This is illustrated in the chart below which is based on correlations between and the size of the factor scores. All four factors are closely linked in people’s minds. A fear of the influx of refugees is distinctly less pronounced than that of the other factors.

Fear Structure Chart

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

Merely fear-mongering about refugees on the part of politicians and in the media, as witnessed by us in the recent past, evidently fails to capture the core of the issue. The data suggests that a targeted communications campaign aimed at clarifying the refugee problem should begin with the interconnection of Islamic fundamentalism with terrorism and organised crime.

Looking at the data, we cannot help but feel that the refugee crisis is being used as a tool between rivals on the domestic political scene. While the fear of Islam is universal and permeates all political camps, the fear of refugees is concentrated among the centre-left which represents the largest group of potential voters. This group does not have such fixed attitudes and opinions and can be influenced easily.

Comparison of fear of refugees according to political affiliation

(total percentage „definitely yes“ + „more likely yes“)

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

The current irrational, emotion-based and unstructured fear of the whole set of risks outlined above is a serious societal phenomenon. The data clearly indicates that in the consciousness of the people this fear weakens our anchoring in the European Union, calls into question the results of the country’s post-November 1989 development and also indirectly our trust in the democratic system. Overcoming this fear will be complicated and is undoubtedly a task which will demand a long-term plan of action. This requires weakening emotions through factual information and patient argumentation. It also demands an understanding of the sources of the problems and the possible tools and strategies which could be implemented in finding solutions to these problems.