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UK ressonses to the asylum issue: a comparison of lay and expert views

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There is much political and media discussion about asylum in Britain and opinion polls indicate public hostility towards asylum seekers. The current research aims to contribute towards a greater understanding of public responses to this issue by exploring the social representations of asylum seekers. Social representations theory provides a useful framework for research on asylum as it conceptualizes public understandings of new and challenging social objects. Semi-structured interviews conducted with lay participants and experts working in support of asylum seekers were thematically analyzed and the results were compared with existing media representations. These comparisons suggest that public representations of asylum seekers differ from formal discourses and are closer to media portrayals. Public respondents perceived public hostility to be greater than the attitudes evinced by the current sample would suggest. The findings suggest that opinion polls may exaggerate public negativity towards asylum seekers and indicate the need for accurate information to be disseminated through publicly accessible sources and for public engagement in debate about the issue.

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