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Racism affects two-thirds of Ireland international students, study finds

Almost two-thirds of international students in Ireland have experienced or witnessed racism, according to a new report from the Irish Council of International Students. 

Only 10% of all participants affected by racism reported it to authorities. Photo: Pexels

Verbal abuse was the most common form of racism reported

Verbal abuse was the most common form of racism reported by the 428 participants in the study, which included higher education and English language students. Some respondents were subject to multiple forms of racism, according to the Speak Out Against Racism report. 

Only 10% of all participants affected by racism reported it to authorities, with reasons for not doing so including language barriers, not knowing how to report and a belief that nothing would be done. 

The study notes that students feel reporting is ineffective “as the authorities seem unable or unwilling to do anything about racism, or even provide support to victims”. 

Laura Harmon, executive director of ICOS, described the results as “alarming”. 

One student said she was shouted at on public transport while another reported being racially targeted at her shared accommodation. The authors of the report also noted that discrimination is prevalent in the provision of accommodation, with one student facing rejection from a housing application after being told “foreigners” were not welcome. 

Racism also happened in the workplace, with students saying they were treated differently to other colleagues or experienced racism from customers. There were reports of physical abuse including assault, objects being thrown at students and being spat at. 

“Perpetrators of racism are everywhere and not confined to one place”

Of the 77 participants who said they were studying in higher education, 25 had experienced racism on campus. 

“It is clear from the findings that perpetrators of racism are everywhere and not confined to one place, which is why we need a whole-of-society approach to tackle the issue,” said Harmon. 

The Irish government published a national action plan against racism in March 2023, which allocated €1 million in funding to anti-racism initiatives. 

Harmon said this represents “an important step towards combating racial discrimination and promoting equality”. 

“However, while legislation and strategies to tackle racial discrimination are essential, there must also be a genuine commitment at the highest level across government to prioritise addressing racism, including the allocation of sufficient resources,” she added. 

ICOS called for more information to be available to international students about racism, as well as more advocacy and better support and procedures for dealing with racism. The group said these actions should be taken by policymakers, English language schools and higher education institutions.

“Awareness raising of human and equality rights, education and diversity initiatives, and better reporting mechanisms and supports for victims of racism, are among the key areas that will need more investment,” Harmon said. 

“Everyone who studies in Ireland should feel safe here, whether that’s on campus, on the street, on public transport, in work or socialising in bars and restaurants.

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