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Poll: Only 6 percent of would-be Syrian refugees want to move to North America

A group of men try to warm up next to a bonfire on a beach shortly after their arrival in a dinghy, with other refugees and migrants, from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. The International Organization for Migration said almost 900,000 people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have entered Europe this year seeking sanctuary or jobs. More than 600,000 have entered through Greece, many after making the short sea crossing from Turkey. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
A group of men try to warm up next to a bonfire on a beach shortly after their arrival in a dinghy, with other refugees and migrants, from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. The International Organization for Migration said almost 900,000 people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have entered Europe this year seeking sanctuary or jobs. More than 600,000 have entered through Greece, many after making the short sea crossing from Turkey. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios) AP

According to a new Gallup poll, a tiny fraction of would-be Syrian refugees say their desired home lies in the United States or Canada. The survey, which was conducted in January through face-to-face interviews, found that only 6 percent of Syrians who said they were contemplating leaving their country imagined North America as their chosen destination.

An overwhelming majority, instead, envisioned their future in Europe or elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

More than 4 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict there erupted in 2011, and roughly half the country's population - or about 11 million Syrians - have been forced to leave their homes.

According to the Gallup poll, nearly half of Syrians polled said they would leave if they could. That sentiment was borne out in the months that followed, with record numbers of Syrian refugees making their way to Europe and many more deepening the strain in neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Turkey. About 43 percent of the Syrian respondents polled in January said they would like to leave in the next 12 months.

The results were consistent with Gallup's polling since the start of the Syrian war.

The poll involved 1,002 face-to-face interviews with Syrians age 15 or older. Because of the dire security situation in much of the country, Gallup could not conduct the survey in certain areas, including the ravaged Homs province. The exclusion reflects roughly a third of Syria's overall population, according to Gallup.

A survey published earlier this year under the aegis of a Washington-based watchdog group found that a majority of Syrians, regardless of political or sectarian affiliation, wanted to see the country remain intact. But the grimness of the conflict has compelled many Syrians to contemplate a future elsewhere.

"Gallup's findings reflect people's desires rather than their intentions - but the implications are still serious," reads a summary on the organization's website. "Contrary to other research Gallup has done on migration, demographic characteristics such as employment, income level and age do not seem to factor in to whether Syrians wish to leave the country."

Yet their plight, rather than winning universal sympathy, has polarized the conversation in the West. In opinion polls, majorities in the United States and Canada are opposed to their governments letting in Syrian refugees. Far-right, anti-immigration parties in Europe have gained traction amid the current influx of migrants.

This is likely of little consequence to hundreds of thousands of desperate Syrians, Gallup concludes: "For many Syrians, simply finding a way to leave the country may be more important than where they end up after that."

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