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The effects of COVID-19 on young refugees' education and wellbeing 

August 2021

This report presents practitioner-based insights from REUK’s experience supporting over 550 refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Qualitative consultations took place with 10 frontline staff members, who shared their observations on the educational and wellbeing challenges facing refugee students, aged 14-25. The report aims to highlight the experiences of refugee students to ensure that their needs are prioritised as the UK Government implements their education recovery package

Executive Summary

COVID-19's effect on refugees' education

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the education of the young people REUK supports. Key educational challenges have included:

● The reliance on technology to access and progress in education

● Language-related barriers to education and learning

● Asylum system delays and the impact on education

● Limited access to additional educational support

As a result of these challenges, many young refugees and asylum seekers have fallen behind with their learning. Their task of ‘catching-up’ on learning may be particularly challenging, as many do not have access to the same resources or support available to other children and young people, whether through families or tutoring.

Key cross-cutting issues

The reliance on technology presents barriers to young refugees’ education and wellbeing.


Refugee students have been affected by deep technology inequalities, both in terms of accessing devices and the internet, and digital skills. Many have been unable to access or navigate online learning and social activities on an equal footing to their peers. Those affected have fallen behind with their learning and have felt isolated from their support networks.

Education and wellbeing are intrinsically linked.


The closures of education settings confirmed how important attending school, college or university can be for young refugees’ psychosocial wellbeing. The closures also highlighted the educational value of the social capital that young refugees build at school, college or university.

Support networks are of paramount importance for young people’s wellbeing and education.

Whether a young person has been able to cope and adapt during COVID-19 – both in terms of their education and wellbeing – has been shaped by the support networks that they have around them, including from families, friends, schools and the voluntary sector. But access to support networks has been inconsistent, and many young people – particularly those newly arrived in the UK – have lacked or have not had the opportunity to build up these networks during COVID-19.


The recommendations published here are an executive summary. For more detail on each reccommendation, please read the full report

Central government should:

● Ensure that refugee students are specifically identified as a priority group.

● Extend the age range of the National Tutoring package to those aged 16-19.

● Fund mental health and wellbeing support that is accessible to refugee students.

Local authorities should:

● Provide refugee students with adequate access to data and digital technology to enable online learning.

Education institutions should:

● Provide comprehensive technology support for refugee students.

● Ensure summer ‘catch-up’ programmes prioritise refugee young people’s education and wellbeing.

● Make online enrolment more accessible to refugee students.

The voluntary sector should:

● Prioritise access to mental health and wellbeing interventions for refugee young people.

● Develop initiatives that create opportunities for refugee young people to catch up on lost learning.

Funders should:

● Prioritise the funding of comprehensive and holistic mental health and wellbeing interventions for refugee young people.

● Support initiatives that create opportunities for refugee young people to catch up on lost learning

COVID-19's effect on refugees' wellbeing

COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health conditions and psychosocial wellbeing challenges faced by many refugee and asylum-seeking young people. Key wellbeing challenges have included: 

● Increased safeguarding concerns

● Isolation and loneliness

● Protracted asylum claims and living in limbo

● Exam-related anxieties and stresses

● Challenges for the protective function of schools

Multiple stresses have accumulated over the course of the pandemic, triggering a greater overall negative effect on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Concurrently, schools, colleges and universities and other key systems on which young refugees most often engage (including the NHS, local authorities and the Home Office) have experienced severe capacity challenges as a result of the pandemic and have been limited in the care and support that they have been able to provide young refugees.

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