Racism and bullying experienced by many child asylum seekers

Use of n-word and exclusion by teachers and other students widespread, report finds

Widespread racism, bullying and exclusion by teachers and students are detailed in a report on child asylum seekers’ lives, published on Tuesday.

Children of colour have been called “black monkey”, “chocolate”, “terrorist” and the n-word in school; have been excluded from sports teams and group work; and Muslim girls have been abused for wearing the hijab, according to the report from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO).

Though the report, Direct Division: Children’s Views and Experiences of Living in Direct Provision, covers a range of issues affecting these children’s lives, their experiences of racism and exclusion are the most stark.

Researchers surveyed 73 children, aged 12 -17, in nine direct provision centres, at the end of last year.


“Use of racist remarks was reported by every group of children we engaged with and was commonly cited as a source of exclusion in school,” states the report. “A number of participants talked about the use of the ‘n’ word by their peers in school.”

Sports and projects

Children felt excluded by “both their peers and their teachers”, with teachers often failing to stop abuse and some contributing to the children’s exclusion.

“This exclusion ranged from not being selected by their peers and teachers for activities such as sports teams, presentations or projects, to serious allegations of racial abuse.

“These incidents are affecting the children’s ability to fully participate in school life, with some children explaining that they do not participate in class because their peers will not work with them and others explaining that their exclusion means they will not speak or answer questions in class,” the report notes.

Children said teachers often did nothing to stop racist stereotyping in their classrooms. One child commented: ‘Teachers should look out for us more, just have common sense and look out for us”, while others pointed to “more covert” exclusion by teachers.

Prayer and halal

One girl said of teachers. “They don’t exclude you, you know exclude – I mean they just don’t include you.”

Some children, however, said teachers, staff and students had shown respect for different cultures and religions by providing prayer rooms, permitting hijabs and offering halal food in the canteen.

The children made suggestions for changes, some very simple and small, others large and systemic, that would help improve their lives in school, the community and wider society.

Among these are that teachers undergo anti-racism training, that teachers be recruited from more diverse backgrounds, and that pupils who express racism be disciplined.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times