Children and young people who are refugees are significantly more likely to experience bullying.
We have created this resource page to raise awareness of the experiences that children and young people who are refugees may face in schools, and provide advice on how best to support children and young people who are refugees and their families.
The information is based on a resource we produced in collaboration with Reset UK for their community sponsorship groups who may need to support refugee families who are experiencing bullying in school.
Prevalence and impact of bullying of refugee pupils
Research we carried out in 2021, with nearly 30,000 pupils from infant to secondary school age, found that almost 1 in 4 (24%) of all the pupils surveyed were frequently being bullied face-to-face. Because bullying is also predominantly a behaviour which involves a wider group, it is likely that almost all children and young people are aware that some bullying is happening in their school or community, even if they are not directly involved.
Research shows that some groups are often more likely to experience bullying than their peers, and this includes some race and faith minorities. In our 2020 literature review, we found that among the groups more likely to be bullied were Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, asylum seeker/refugee and mixed-race children and young people. Additionally, recently there has been an increase in reports of hate crime and incidents in school , as well as increased contact from children to Childline about race and faith targeted bullying .
Why might refugee young people be more likely to be bullied?
There are 3 main factors to consider when thinking about what makes children and young people more likely to experience bullying. They are:
This tends to be anything that could mark someone out as ‘different’ from others and this intersects with the way in which the school community or environment is set up. Children and young people who are refugees can be seen as ‘different’ from their peers because of the fact that they have come from a different country and are very likely to have had quite different childhood or school experiences prior to joining the school. They may also not speak the same language as their peers, and may have experienced trauma that their peers may not understand.
This can could cover a number of areas, such as:
- A young person’s own peer groups
- The relationship between pupils and their teachers
- The relationships between pupils and their own families
Sometimes the way the school community or environment is set up can make children more likely to be bullied. This could reflect the set-up of the school, the setting, or the community in which they live. For example, inadequate supervision on home to school transport could leave pupils more vulnerable to bullying. In our Anti-Bullying Week poll in 2020, 26% of young people who had been bullied reported it happening on home to school transport. Yet research has shown that despite many bus drivers seeing bullying taking place, only 21% had received any advice or instructions about how to handle it.
Racism and race discrimination
Under the Equality Act 2010, the protected characteristic of race ‘refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, and nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins.’
It is vital to consider racism and race discrimination when thinking about all 3 factors above that may put children and young people more at risk. This is particularly relevant for children and young people who are refugees, whose individual characteristics very often include being the minority race and/or faith group in their class/school, making them more at risk of racist or faith-targeted bullying.
Additionally, unfortunately some schools or settings might find that relationships between refugee families and other parts of their community are difficult because of pre-existing racism whether that be on a personal or structural level. This kind of environment can make racist or faith-targeted bullying more likely to happen.
Please note, all incidents of racist bullying in schools constitute a racist incident. However not all racist incidents would constitute racist bullying. To determine if racist incident/s are bullying, it is important to have a shared whole-school understanding of what bullying is. You can find more information about the definition of bullying here, and hate crimes here.
Supporting children and young people who are refugees
If you become aware of, or you receive a report that a refugee child or young person in your school or setting is being bullied, the below tips and advice may be useful.
Here are some top tips to prevent and respond to bullying of refugee young people in your school or setting*:
- Always challenge discriminatory language: make it clear to all members of your school community that you will challenge all discriminatory language (including activity on social media), and that all forms of bullying and prejudice are taken seriously. You could provide reminders in several ways such as displays, newsletters or emails, notice boards etc.
- Make sure your anti-bullying policy/behaviour policy/e-safety policy includes race and faith targeted bullying and that this is shared through your school website and made readily available to all members of the school community.
- Review your staff training offer, and make sure that preventing and responding to bullying (including race and faith targeted bullying) is included in all staff training. You may even feel the need to run a training session for staff about children and young people who are refugees to ensure staff are confident and comfortable.
- Never dismiss reports of bullying that involve refugee children or young people – be clear you take this seriously and acknowledge their feelings. Listen to them and involve them in your response.
- Encourage all staff and students to be vigilant to bullying, prejudice and abuse of children and young people who are refugees, and ensure they understand that they are more at-risk of experiencing it.
- Encourage children and young people who are refugees to speak to teachers/ support staff if they have any worries or concerns about bullying, prejudice or abuse. Make sure they are aware of who they can speak to or any other ways of reporting issues you might have in your school or setting. Consider the fact that you might need to provide translation or other support to ensure they can access the help they need.
- Record levels of bullying incidents involving children and young people who are refugees: Be sure to keep a record of any incidents and take immediate action if you receive a report of bullying or abuse. Being able to provide clear evidence that schools have identified a problem, taken action to tackle it and continue to review it is useful for their Ofsted inspections.
- Consider whether to report incidents as hate crimes to the police.
- Children will repeat what they hear at home, in the streets and on social media. Be patient, be kind and always promote inclusion and respect diversity.
- Take a whole-school and cross curricular approach. Involve all aspects of the school community. Take time in assemblies, tutor time and through the curriculum to remind students that they are all equally respected and valued.
- Seek help. It is important that schools seek advice if they are unsure how to handle a situation. At the bottom of this page you will find a list of specialist agencies that can offer guidance and support.
Responding to bullying incidents involving refugee young people: ABA’s 3-step response model
Evidence shows that the negative consequences of experiencing bullying can last well into adulthood. Timely and well planned responses to bullying are critical.
ABA’s 3-step response to bullying aims to help you develop a consistent, reflective and more effective approach to responding to bullying incidence in schools and other settings:
When responding to an incident of bullying involving a refugee young person, some important things to remember include:
- Think about any translation support that may be needed between you and the young person, and/or you and the young person’s family.
- When recording the incident, you should log that it involved a refugee young person, and whether it was racist or faith-targeted in nature.
- Don’t forget step 3, and to spend some time reflecting on the incident, and think about whether it highlights any issues within the school such as:
- A lack of respect for others in your school community, and the need to refresh your school ethos and values, ensuring you celebrate difference in all and encourage respect.
- The need for staff training around bullying and/or children and young people who are refugees. Don’t forget this includes after school or breakfast club providers and break-time staff.
- Consider updating policies and/or procedures to reflect and safeguard children and young people who are refugees.
Supporting parents and carers
Don’t forget that bullying incidences are also distressing for the parents and carers of the young people who experience it. Here are some tips on working with the parents and carers of children and young people who are refugees:
- Offer to have a meeting with them to talk through the plan for your response.
- If there are language needs, think about whether an interpreter would be needed for discussions with parents/carers.
- Support families to understand the school’s approach to tackling bullying – e.g. make sure they are aware of your anti-bullying policy.
- Think about what other support you provide as a school might be relevant to offer to the family, e.g. pastoral support or resources translated into other languages.
- Seek expert advice where necessary (see our suggested resources at the bottom of the page).