Bullying presents unique problems in refugee community

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SALT LAKE CITY -- School bullying has captured many headlines recently. Schools across the nation take the matter very seriously. In Utah, state educators have found specific problems with bullying in the refugee community.

Like most American youngsters, popular media has a grip on refugee youth.

Deseret News:

Christine Mockli, a social worker with the Granite School District, said, "They think that being American is kind of like the rappers. Kind of like the gangster look."

Mockli teaches refugee families what it means to imitate certain aspects of American culture.

"For example, bandanna with colors or a hat, like, especially if they're wearing it to the side or back. Why can they not wear these things in school? Because that sets them up," she said.

Mockli said these children are survivors from war-torn countries. Many were abused, which is probably why some of them bully other refugee children.

When that bullying happens in school, Mockli says teachers are often overwhelmed. Many of the refugee children are still learning English, and with that blend of languages in one place, Somali interpreter Ahmed Hussein says refugee kids often misunderstand each other.

"Mostly the fighting is when the kid comes from a different language. People like Latinos and other people that come from different backgrounds are involved in gang," Hussein said.

Many refugee parents don't know enough about the American culture to teach their children about bullying; and those teaching refugee youngsters don't know enough about their culture to understand where they're coming from. Experts say, that's something Utah can't afford.

"This is what I'm scared of: If they don't get the help and education, we're going to lose them to the correctional system. And it's going to cost us a lot more money to take care of them in corrections than it will to pay for education for them," Mockli said.

Now Salt Lake area schools are making efforts to get refugee children, their parents and teachers on the same page to cut down on potential bullying situations.

Salt Lake's Horizonte Center holds training workshops most Saturdays for refugees on topics like bullying and gangs.


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