Centre will be up and running from 1 December 2010 in new premises
4th August 2010: The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM) has been awarded a grant of £424,276 to establish the organisation’s Belfast Migrant Centre under the Welcome House Project. It will be a central advice and support centre for people from ethnic minority communities in Northern Ireland.
The centre will be up and running from 1 December 2010 in its new premises. Until then, we will run these services from our offices.”
The Welcome House Project is a consortium of the Irish Congress of Trade Union, UNISON, Polish Association Northern Ireland and NICEM.
Belfast Migrant Centre, based at Shaftesbury Square, will provide people with support and guidance on economic and social rights such as support in finding jobs, making doctor’s appointments, and registering for houses, schools and benefits.
The project will also run training programmes for the leaders of community groups so they can continue to improve the support they offer people, and they will support people with health issues such as problems with alcohol and drugs by signposting them to support organisations.
And Belfast Migrant Centre will also be a place where people from the ethnic minority communities can come to report hate crime and discrimination in confidence and receive support.
Executive Director Patrick Yu explained that the centre will be ‘one stop shop’ offering access to advice and support on all practical and more complex issues affecting people from these communities.
“We have a huge influx of migrant workers coming to Northern Ireland. They are looking for jobs and they see the peace process developing, so they see this as a good place to live,” said Patrick.
“The economic downturn is causing some to go back home, but there are still 35,000 migrants living in Northern Ireland. However, levels of unemployment among the migrant community in Northern Ireland are three times higher than in the local community.
“They often don’t understand the system when they come here. And now they are facing the recession and they are dealing with discrimination and employment rights issues, they are being sacked because they don’t know their rights, and they are dealing with increasing harassment in the workplace.
“When a recession hits people start to blame migrants for the country’s problems, asking ‘who are they and why are they taking all our jobs?’ There have been high profile racist attacks in Belfast over the last years: at the match between Poland and Northern Ireland, and during the Roma crisis last June.
The project will also help people improve their English. “These people have high levels of qualifications and skills, but they struggle with the English language. We will support them to learn English and improve their chances of getting jobs,” said Patrick.
“And we will also carry out research into what’s needed in the future and how the policy for migrant ethnic groups needs to change.
“We are going to develop a centre that will help migrant ethnic people be more self reliant and solve their own problems, and look at the issues affecting them and how we can make their lives better.
“We are helping them settle down and integrate into the wider society in Northern Ireland.”
Blessing Kanengoni, 30, from south Belfast, is originally from Zimbabwe. He approached NICEM when he needed support to apply for residency in the UK.
“I’m engaged to a local Irish woman and I’ve lived here for more than two years so I applied to get my EU residency,” he said.
“I went along to NICEM and the case was dealt with within weeks, they were brilliant. They phoned the Home Office and found out my application was in Liverpool and got it sorted quickly. I was granted permission to reside in the UK, while my EU residency application is ongoing, and NICEM were just great.
“It was great to have support of people who know the system, took an interest in my case, were friendly and kind and wanted to help.”