Racism experienced by two-thirds of international students in Ireland, ICOS report shows

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New research findings highlight urgent need for concerted effort to tackle racism and discrimination

Almost two-thirds of international students in Ireland have experienced or witnessed racism, and only one in ten incidents are reported to the authorities. These are among the key findings outlined in ‘Speak Out Against Racism’, a new report published by the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) today (29.03.23).

The report represents the first in-depth investigation into international students’ experience of racism in Ireland. It follows previous research, published by ICOS in 2021, which examined the wider challenges faced by international students in Ireland.

More than 420 international students participated in ICOS’ research, which was conducted via an online survey in several languages, as well as a series of one-to-one interviews and a focus group. Of the research participants, 97% were from non-EEA countries, including 78% from Latin America. The majority of respondents were English language students (82%), while 18% were students at higher education institutions.

Key findings set out in the report include:

  • Experiences of racism: Almost two-thirds (63%) of international students in Ireland have experienced and/or witnessed racism.
  • Forms of racism:  The most common form of racism experienced or witnessed was verbal (42%). This was followed by ‘indirect’ racism (39%), for example by being treated differently or unfairly due to their race, particularly in the workplace; and physical racism (12%), including physical assaults, the throwing of objects or being spat at. A further 4% indicated that they had experienced or witnessed online hate speech.
  • Location: The majority of racist incidents occurred in Dublin (68%), however, incidents occurred in both urban and rural settings and several respondents reported witnessing or experiencing racism on more than one occasion, in some cases, in different parts of Ireland.
  • Place of incident: A quarter of all racist incidents occurred on the street (25%), followed by social settings (restaurants, pubs or nightclubs), the workplace, or public transport (each at 15%), social media (6%), and a series of other public settings (31%). One in three of the respondents studying in higher education reported experiencing or witnessing a racist incident on campus.
  • Perpetrators: Of the participants that provided information on the perpetrators of racism, 35 said the offenders were youths or teenagers. There were 34 accounts of racial discrimination in the workplace at the hands of work colleagues, supervisors, and customers; 25 cases involving strangers; and 23 cases involving individuals or groups of men. In addition, 17 respondents from the survey reported institutional racism, for example, at their higher education institution, when dealing with the Gardai, and at a hospital.
  • Reporting: Reporting of racist incidents was found to be very low. Only 10% of international students who experienced an incident of racism reported it to the authorities, and of those who reported an incident, 67% were dissatisfied with the response their received.

Commenting on the report, Executive Director of ICOS, Laura Harmon said: “Our research shows that racism remains a prevalent issue in Ireland and one that strongly affects international students who come here to study. It’s alarming to see that almost two-thirds of those who participated in our study have been exposed to racism and discrimination, and that only one in ten racist incidents are reported to the authorities.

“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. ICOS has campaigned for the introduction of legislation to tackle racism for several years, and we believe the launch of the long-awaited National Action Plan Against Racism earlier this month represents an important step towards combating racial discrimination and promoting equality. According to recent reports from Gardaí, racism and xenophobia account for a third of all recorded hate crimes, so we urge the Government to enact hate crime legislation without delay.

“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.  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. 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.”



News type
ICOS Press Release