What is ‘Xenophobia’?

Xenophobia [zen-uh-foh-bee-uh].

According to Merriam-Webster, xenophobia is the "fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”. 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, xenophobia is the “extreme dislike or fear of foreigners, their customs, their religions, etc.”

According to verywellmind, "Xenophobia, or fear of strangers, is a broad term that may be applied to any fear of someone who is different from us. Xenophobia often overlaps with forms of prejudice including racism and homophobia, but there are important distinctions. Where racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination are based on specific characteristics, xenophobia is usually rooted in the perception that members of the outgroup are foreign to the ingroup community.”


How can Xenophobia take place?

Xenophobia can take place in many different forms, and one of the most recent examples of xenophobia on a global scale is through the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM, a related organisation to the United Nations/UN), released an issue brief in 2020 titled “Countering Xenophobia and Stigma to Foster Social Cohesion in the COVID 19 Response and Recovery”. Within this brief, they stated that “Documented cases of racist and xenophobic attacks towards migrants range from hate speech, racial slurs, brutal acts of violence, to discriminating public policies, laws and measures.”

As with many forms of discrimination, xenophobia can take place in a blatant or discreet manner. Certain discreet acts of xenophobia can be classified as microaggressions; these are acts, statements or incidents which cause indirect (and sometimes unintentional) discrimination against a marginalised group, usually as a result of ignorance.

The IOM gave the following examples of xenophobia that had been seen as of July 2020 (in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic):

- Adopting alternative names for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Instead of using the internationally recognised name of the virus, officials have adopted names with geographic references, typically referring to its emergence in China. Yet, as stressed by WHO already in 2015, names of diseases really do matter, as they can stigmatize certain communities and provoke a backlash.

- Sensationalised media reports blaming particular communities for the origin and spread of COVID-19.

- Refusal to sit next to passengers of a certain or perceived ethnic origin on public transports metros and buses.

- Verbal attacks and insults in the streets and in social media. Likewise, violent physical attacks and assaults, including towards returning migrants.

- Bullying at work and in schools against migrants.

- Termination of employment on the basis of perceived national origin.

- Excessive use of force by law enforcement authorities against migrants to enforce curfews, lockdowns and other measures against COVID-19.

- Verbal, political attacks against free movement regimes, such as within the EU.


As well as the above examples, there are some further examples in the table below. These outline blatant and discreet acts of xenophobia in a general manner (not related to COVID-19). As stated previously, xenophobia often overlaps with other forms of discrimination; however, it’s important to remember that xenophobia originates from a fear of those who are different from us.

Blatant Acts of Xenophobia

  • Believing that any migrant or citizen who may be considered to be of ethnic minority, does not belong in the country. This typically leads to the belief that such individuals should not benefit from certain advantages, such as voting rights, health care, education etc.
  • Being against particular objects, language or items of clothing from a certain culture (cultural xenophobia). For example, being against the use of hijabs, niqabs or burkas.
  • Believing that a group of people who may need assistance/are moving from another country are not (and should not be) part of your society (immigrant xenophobia). This can occur towards groups who are recently in need of help (asylum seekers and refugees), or who have been within the community for a long period of time (migrants and immigrants).
  • Oppression, persecution, and murder of people due to their ethnicity/origins. Examples of this can be seen in historical and current events such as:

- Uyghur Muslims being kept in detention centres by members of the Chinese government for re-education purposes (according to some sources). This has also reportedly included sterilisation to prevent continuation of the Uygur population.

- Donald Trump building a wall to keep Mexican nationals, migrants and immigrants out. Trump (according to some sources) also voiced xenophobic (and racist) beliefs that Mexicans were “Drug dealers, criminals and rapists”, further fuelling wide-scale xenophobia against those from Mexico or with Mexican heritage.

- The Holocaust; extermination of the Jewish people due to their religions and views.

- Ku Klux Klan (KKK); the murder of black families and individuals.

- WWII in the US and Canada saw Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians being segregated and losing basic rights and liberties.

  • Laws preventing people who originate from other countries from voting. Some countries enable individuals to vote if they become a citizen by passing tests and pre-requisites (e.g. working for a set amount of time). Other countries do not have this opportunity, meaning that individuals who may have immigrated and work, pay tax, and abide by the law, still do not get the right to vote like other citizens.



Discreet Acts of Xenophobia

  • Believing that if someone moves to your country/joins your culture, they have to adopt your norms and ways of life because it’s “your home”. (This can occur in a blatant or discreet manner).
  • Feeling uncomfortable around people who fall into a different “group” and assuming you won’t get on.
  • Going to great lengths to avoid particular areas of where you live due to populations of ethnic minorities, migrants, etc., through fear something bad may happen to you (this can occur in a blatant and discreet manner).
  • Assuming all individuals from a particular country/culture must all be the same and share the same beliefs/behaviours. For example:

- Fearing that all Muslims might be terrorists or aggressive to non-Muslims.

- Fearing that all Mexicans are dangerous and in gangs.

- Fearing that all people from China must eat cats and dogs.

- Fearing that all Jewish people are going to take your money.

- Fearing that those from eastern-European countries (Poland, Slovakia, Romania etc.), are all “Gypsies” trying to take other people’s jobs. (NOTE: the term “gypsy/gypsies” is considered offensive by some communities and should be avoided unless said community identifies as such).


All of the above examples can be microaggressions; likewise, they can be blatant and deliberate beliefs an individual may openly project.

How to report Xenophobia

In education/work:

In education, xenophobia and other discriminatory abuse can be reported to one of your lecturers, any nearby member of staff, or to your organisation’s Welfare service.

The HoW College welfare service can be contacted on: 07881 379 252 or welfarer&b@howcollege.ac.uk for Redditch and Bromsgrove, and 07789 754 161 or welfarew&m@howcollege.ac.uk for Worcester and Malvern.

Outside of education/work:

If the situation is an emergency and you feel someone may be in danger or there may be an immediate threat to someone’s health, security or property, always call the police on 999. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, contact the Police textphone service using 18000. If you cannot talk on the phone, any member of the public can also text the Police using 999 in an Emergency situation; however, you must register for this service first. Register today by texting ‘REGISTER’ to 999 and follow the instructions.

You can also report crime anonymously through the True Vision platform (https://www.report-it.org.uk/your_police_force), and via the Stop Hate UK website (http://www.stophateuk.org/).

Within the media:

Should you see/hear any form of xenophobia within advertisement, online platforms or on TV, identify the responsible organisation (for example, the BBC) and follow their complaints procedure. Bodies such as Ofcom can also be utilised to report such behaviour.


HoW College and Xenophobia

Here at HoW College we have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of discrimination; xenophobia is no exception. We strive to create a welcoming, inclusive and equal environment and believe that education should be a safe, accessible and accepting place for all.

Within our community, we expect all members of the College and those who visit the College to behave in a respectful manner, with all individuals they encounter. We acknowledge that there will be differences in beliefs, cultures, and generally how people live their lives; however, within our community we embrace such variances as opportunities to learn and experience the world from different perspectives.

Xenophobia is unfortunately still present in society today, which is why we wanted to take the time to curate a page to help people learn more. We hope that as a community we can continue to grow and create a more accepting society.