New research on the children of refugees in Iceland has shown that they have difficulties fitting in and making friends, with societal attitudes towards people who do not speak Icelandic as their mother tongue being the major obstacle.
RÚV reports that social workers Guðbjörg Ottósdóttir and Helena N. Wolimbwa spoke with 14 children of refugees from the ages of 10 to 18 about their place in society and their general well-being. Overall, the children say that they were very pleased with their welcome to the country, but thereafter find it difficult to make friends.
Their research shows that these children show little interest in clubs or sports, and seldom speak with school officials about their problems fitting in. Rather, the children prefer to engage in activities that they find fun and that help them forget their problems.
The children also say that they serve as interpreters for their parents on an almost daily basis, whether in shopping or in conversations with institutions such as banks. They have also served as interpreters for doctor visits, even though their parents have the legal right to an interpreter when speaking to a medical professional.
It also came to light that these children do not receive lessons in their mother language, which research has shown is crucial not only to boosting the self-image of an immigrant child, but also helps in their overall language development, both in their native tongue and in their adopted language.
Overall, the children do not see themselves spending their lives in Iceland, nor do they believe they will move back to their homelands. Rather, they imagine moving to another country altogether, where their native language is spoken and where the culture is closer to what they know.
Helena told RÚV that she believes authorities need to take a closer look at how society regards the children of refugees and other immigrants.