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Omni-present sectarianism and the life experiences of Asylum seekers and Refugees in NI

Dr Ulrike Vieten and Dr Fiona Murphy discuss their project looking at the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in Northern Ireland.

Dr Murphy and Dr Vieten, blogpost slide

The study ‘Asylum seekers’ and Refugees’ experiences of Life in Northern Ireland’ was initiated by the race equality unit at Stormont, and following a successful tender (OFMDFM), carried out by Dr Fiona Murphy (PI) and Dr Ulrike M Vieten (Co-I.), in 2016. Northern Ireland is the only jurisdiction in the UK which does not have a refugee integration strategy (Murphy & Vieten, 2017). When the report was launched in December 2017 there was no regional governance in NI. That said in 2020 the devolved government returned to Stormont but writing this blog in May 2021 we are waiting for an integration strategy reflecting the findings of the study, yet.

In our research we used intersectionality as methodological framework trying to understand the complex and multi-layered experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in the areas of education, health, housing, employment. In total, 47 asylum seekers and refugees (two with citizenship) from ten different countries were interviewed. We also interviewed 38 service providers working in health, education, employment, housing as well as civil sector and NGO actors. The project was a team-based study with five researchers in total working on it (3 RAs). We asked research participants a range of questions about their lives in order to track how both asylum seekers and refugees’ interface with service providers and host communities in Northern Ireland. We also set out to understand how the notion of integration is perceived and engaged with by members of asylum seeking and refugee communities, as well as by members of the host community. The report identified a range of conceptual and practical difficulties associated with the concept of integration and makes a number of recommendations for better pathways towards integration and inclusion in Northern Ireland. Though we asked not explicitly about the experience with racism and sectarianism our interview partners shared their concern and how it impacts their wellbeing, feeling of safety and choice of housing and education. We argue that omni-present sectarianism is affecting newcomers as well as settled communities though it is largely neglected by policy makers and some NGO’s, in its everyday impact, particularly on the life of vulnerable newcomers in Northern Ireland.

Research papers from this Tender project have included:

Murphy, F. & U. M. Vieten (2017). Asylum Seekers and Refugees’ Experiences of Life in Northern Ireland. Report, Belfast: The Executive Office & Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. Available open access at,784971,en.pdf

Murphy, F. & U. M. Vieten (2019). ‘African asylum seekers and refugees in both Irelands.’, In: Bryan Fanning & Lucy Michael (eds.). Immigrants as Outsiders in the two Irelands. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 58-71. AUthors’ pre-print available open access at

Murphy, F. & U. M. Vieten (2020). ‘Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Northern Ireland: The impact of postmigration stressors on mental health.’, Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine.1-10.

Vieten, U. M. & F. Murphy (2019). ’The Imagination of the Other in a (Post-) Sectarian Society: Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the Divided City of Belfast.’ Social Inclusion, 7(2)

Dr Fiona Murphy, Dr Ulrike Vieten
School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics

Recommended reference for this page:

Vieten, U M. & F. Murphy. Omni-present sectarianism and life experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in Northern Ireland. Blog for Queen's on Ethnic Minorities in Northern Ireland.