Australian people are among the most welcoming of refugees in the world, with seven in 10 saying the country should do more to assist people fleeing war and persecution, a global Amnesty International survey has found

The attitude is in stark contrast to government statements this week. The immigration minister Peter Dutton argued that many refugees are uneducated and illiterate, and that accepting more into Australia would see them take jobs from Australians or burden the country’s welfare system.

But more than half of Australian respondents to the Amnesty survey said they would welcome refugees into their neighbourhoods, and more than one in 10 would welcome a refugee to live in their home.

Globally, China, Germany and the UK were found to be the countries with populations most welcoming of refugees, followed by Canada and Australia in fifth place; while Russia, Indonesia and Thailand ranked lowest of the 27 countries surveyed.

“Governments cannot allow their response to the refugee crisis to be held hostage by headlines. Too often they use xenophobic anti-refugee rhetoric to chase approval ratings. This survey suggests they are not listening to the silent majority of welcoming citizens who take the refugee crisis personally.”

This week Dutton said Australia would not consider accepting more refugees than its current humanitarian intake, now at 13,750 rising to 18,750 by 2018. A one-off additional intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees is also being undertaken.

Dutton said more refugees would be a drain on Australia’s welfare system, or else would cause unemployment to rise by taking jobs from Australians.

“For many people, they won’t be, you know, numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English,” he said. “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.

“For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it, so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario.”