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Refugee week: the invaluable contribution of refugees and asylum seekers

On Monday 16 June, the Northern Ireland Assembly held a debate called by OFDMFM Committee to welcome Refugee Week and Community Relations Week.

In preparation for the debate, the Law Centre put together two briefing papers for MLAs:

  • a joint briefing prepared with local organisations highlighting the contribution of asylum seekers and refugees. It is available on the Assembly's website:

www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/ofmdfm/motions/motions/community-relations-refugee-week/British-Red-Cross-Refugee-Week-Briefing.pdf

  • an information sheet debunking myths and setting out facts and figures about the reality of the lives of asylum seekers and refugees:

www.lawcentreni.org/Publications/Policy-Briefings/Refugee-issues-MLA-info-sheet.pdf

The Assembly motion was passed, noting the importance of Refugee Week and Community Relations Week in: 'facilitating positive encounters between diverse cultures in order to encourage greater understanding, overcome hostility and build a shared society.'

How refugees and asylum seekers contribute to the work of the Law Centre

The Law Centre provides legal advice and assistance to asylum seekers and refugees. The experiences of the asylum seeking and refugee community directly informs the Law Centre's policy work. Examples of working closely with the refugee community to influence policy include:

  • joint work between the Law Centre, Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) and Bryson Intercultural resulted in the Department of Employment and Learning agreeing to provide free English classes for asylum seekers;
  • ongoing joint work to highlight some of the difficulties (for example in relation to housing, accessing employment, claiming benefits) experienced by recently recognised refugees. This resulted in the Home Office changing its practice in issuing status documents and also to the Belfast City Council commissioning a Transition Guide to aid with this process.

Informing our policy work

By drawing on our casework expertise and by working closely with the refugee community, we are confident that our policy work meets real needs and addresses tangible concerns and problems experienced within the community.

Representatives from NI Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers and the Horn of Africa People's Aid bring their first-hand experience of issues affecting their communities to the OFMDFM convened Immigration Sub Group of the Racial Equality Panel, which is chaired by the Law Centre.

This group brings together a range of statutory agencies and voluntary and community organisations and has proven to be an effective forum for change. All members value the contribution of the refugee representatives, who bring a unique perspective to discussions.

Fostering integration and community cohesion

Much of the work of the Law Centre, in conjunction with the refugee community, is aimed at securing positive measures to assist with integration. For example, the English languages classes funded by DEL and provided by the Belfast Metropolitan College have proved to be invaluable in terms of integration. The Law Centre takes the view that the integration of minority ethnic communities brings benefits not just for the individuals themselves but also for wider society as it helps foster greater understanding and community cohesion.

Furthermore, elected representatives – including both MLAs and MPs – have used policy materials produced by the Law Centre (with assistance from NICRAS and other organisations) during parliamentary debates and committee sessions on topics such as destitution, human trafficking, access to healthcare, etc.

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