accessibility & help

Refugees: Identity

Ebrahim came to the UK as a teenager seeking refuge. 

A new comic book tells how he coped with loss of identity papers, being held in custody, dealing with bureaucracy he didn't understand and the threat of deportation.

It also shows how he found education and friendship and volunteered to help other young migrants. 

Use specially targeted activities to help students explore identity, alienation and the value of friendship.

Learning objectives

By the end of this activity students will be able to:

  • Describe how to replace different forms of ID, and say what pieces of ID are required to access various services in the UK.

  • Say how they would respond to a fellow student who was showing signs of emotional distress as a result of acute anxiety about the future.

Age range: 11–19
Curriculum links: PSHE, Citizenship, Geography


The following discussion triggers and activity ideas are designed to be used with one or more of the six cartoon panels taken from the Over Under Sideways Down graphic novel by Karrie Fransman.

Show the images on a whiteboard for whole group work, or print them for distribution to groups. 

Each activity follows a similar format: discussion ideas followed by a sentence for students to complete in their own words. There are then action project ideas for more developed work, in or outside the classroom. 

Key messages running through the activities are:

  • Young refugees need, and show, resilience and determination as they rebuild their lives in the UK.

  • We don't live in isolation, and we can't constantly re-live or regret the past. What matters is our shared future - which we all have a part to play in shaping. 

1. Lost identity

Identity image comic book© Info

Use the image to explore what lack of identity means in the UK. 

Discuss different forms of ID. When visitors come to the school, or to the door, how do you know who they are? How important is that? Discuss ways of identifying people, by uniform or name badges -  in shops, at an emergency, at a sporting event... How does the role that people play affect their identity?

Is being known part of being accepted? How easy is it to accept someone if you don't know who they are or where they come from? What are the basics that you would like to know about a friend? Can you still be friends with someone if you don't know where they come from? 

Finish the sentence: If my identity wasn't recognised by the country I was in I would feel...


  • Find out how to replace different forms of ID. Where would you go and what would you need if you had lost or misplaced your birth certificate or passport?

  • Find out what the commonly accepted forms of ID are in order to do the following in the UK: open a bank account, sign up for a phone contract, join a public library.

2. Arrival in the UK

Arrival image comic book© Info

Use the image to encourage students to reflect on what the UK might seem like to someone from north-western Iran.

Discuss why the comic book writer described the UK as a cold and alien world. What practical examples of Ebrahim's experience might she have been thinking of?

What images do students have of a city in north-western Iran? How different do they think it is from their own locality? Identify three things that they think would be very different. Then research whether they are accurate or not.

Finish the sentence: Ebrahim would feel less alienated if someone in the UK...


  • Make contact with refugees and/or refugee support groups in the local area. Ask what struck newcomers as strange or different about the UK and what would have made them feel more welcome.

  • Many people miss the food from their home country. Cooking can be a great, and simple, way of making someone feel welcome in a new place. Research, source ingredients and then cook a meal or a dish that someone from Kurdish Iran might find tasty and familiar. See the Simple Acts website for inspiration. 

3. Scared and confused

Language image comic book© Info

Use the image to explore feelings of fear, confusion and vulnerability. 

Discuss what Ebrahim might have thought about while he was alone in his cell. What kinds of thoughts would help him feel better? What would make him feel worse?

Talk about a time when students have been asked a question they don't understand by someone in authority. What are the options for response? Think about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Finish the sentence: The best thing to do when you are scared and confused is...


  • Watch a movie about refugees. One that includes Ebrahim is Leave to Remain directed by Bruce Goodison. Or see the Simple Acts website for other ideas. Has watching a movie helped develop more of an understanding of what Ebrahim experienced? 

  • Invite the local community police officer to explain police station procedures if someone attends to claim asylum. Will applicants always be taken into custody? Where is the nearest custody suite? Ask about the role of the UK Border Agency. Try to understand the system - then try explaining it to someone else using words that someone with limited English could follow.

4. Everyday life

Use the image to explore everyday life from a refugee's point of view.

Ebrahim says his flatshare was in "a very nice house". Talk about what he might mean by this. List some characteristics of a nice house, and then put them in a priority order. 

When times are hard it can help to have a focus. Ebrahim concentrated on learning, which he says took his mind from the upheaval and the loss of his old life. In a similar situation, what would students focus on? What helps get you through a difficult time?

Finish the sentence: One thing I personally could do to help a refugee feel more welcome in school is...


  • Learn and practise some words of welcome in another language. See more ideas in the Refugee welcome activity.
  • Using images cut from an Argos catalogue or similar, ask students working in groups to create a montage of the household items Ebrahim would need in his house. Show how each image links to essentials of life - warmth, security, food, water, social contact and so on.

5. Emotional support

Emotional support image comic book© Info

Use the image to explore ways of coping with chronic stress and constant anxiety.

Talk about the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Identify ways that your daily life is affected if you are extremely fearful about something.

Think about how decision-making and concentration is altered, and your ability to laugh and relax is reduced. Which symptom would students find most difficult to deal with?

Imagine you were at school with Ebrahim. You were talking to him one day and he became upset and said how afraid he was of being returned to his home country. What would you do, what would you say? 

Finish the sentence: Telling a worried person that everything is going to be all right isn't usually very helpful because...

Note: the emotional support teacher briefing provides helpful advice and ideas.


  • Find out what support groups there are locally for refugees. What services do they offer? Which do students think would be most valued by someone who is constantly afraid of being returned to a hostile land?
  • Some areas have a drop-in session, perhaps weekly, where refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants can meet informally. If you were designing such a session, what facilities would you include? How would you lay out the room? Working in groups, ask students to sketch and label their vision of an ideal drop-in session that helps people relax and feel comfortable.

6. Friendship 

Welcome image comic book© Info

Use the image to explore the value of friendship and of volunteering.

Volunteering is usually regarded as something that people do to help others. But, most often, the volunteer gets a tremendous amount from it too. How might volunteering as a befriender and an interpreter have helped Ebrahim? List as many ways as possible - practical and emotional.

Agree or disagree? If you've been through an experience yourself it makes you better able to help someone going through that same experience? 

Do most people in the group agree with this, or not? What does it depend on? Invite explanations, and explore differences. 

Finish the sentence: A simple thing I could do to help a newcomer to the area feel welcome is...


  • Imagine someone your own age who has recently arrived in the UK. Your job is to devise an intensive week-long familiarisation programme that would quickly get them up to speed with what they need to know about the local area. Draw up a simple timetable for a week and ask students to fill in the timeslots with visits and activities. For more detail on this activity see the lesson plan here.

  • Create a presentation for others based on this work on Ebrahim and his story. What have you learnt about refugees in the UK that you didn't know before? What would you like others to know? Devise a a drama, a poster, a factual presentation in an assembly or whatever you think would best communicate the messages you want others to hear.


Positive Images

Positive Images logo

The Positive Images toolkit is an educational resource on migration and development that can be used to teach young people aged 12 and over.

Find out more >