ALVAREZ PRIETO Ignacio‘Diversity is strength and not a threat’:
Unite Against Hate seminar, Belfast City Hall
by Ignacio Álvarez PRIETO for Northern Ireland Foundation
4 November 2014

Belfast City Hall was the venue for a seminar, ‘Challenging Racism: Ending Hate’, where Dr Richard Montague and Professor Peter Shirlow’s report was presented.

The main purpose of this investigation is to fight against the very ‘myths’ that surrounds migration, and therefore, to challenge racism in society. As Belfast Lord Mayor, Nicholla Mallon, said to the audience, migrants make a large contribution to society and the economy.

Professor Shirlow explained that he and his colleague wanted to engage people in a process of thinking with this report. After all, Belfast and Northern Ireland are currently in a period of transition, facing new challenges related to this wave of newcomers, and people react against it. Between 2013 and 2014, there has been a 43% increase in racially motivated offences, 70% of them happening in Belfast. But racially motivated crimes in Northern Ireland have risen by more than 50%.

As Professor Shirlow said, immigrants come to Northern Ireland to work and contribute to the economy. During their investigation, he and Dr Montague found that non-UK and Ireland migrants contribute 4% of the Northern Ireland workforce, a fact that is at odds with the myth that migrants are taking the jobs from local people. Also, according to a study undertaken by University College of London in 2013, it highlighted that immigrants from the EEA countries made a net fiscal contribution of about £8.8 billion. A key point is that immigrants create more employment by growing the economy, rather than contributing to higher unemployment rates.

Their work also investigated another big myth: being a burden to the healthcare system. They explained that migrant people tend to be young and healthy, therefore not likely to need medical care. The minimum burden of temporary migrants that take advantage of free health services, of around 0.01% of the NHS budget, is overly surpassed by the fact that the health service has benefited from qualified doctors and nurses that came from abroad. This is a major contribution, because the health service could not function without this workforce.

The same happens with schools, due to the fact that a lot of them would have closed if it weren’t for the arrival of immigrant children. On the other hand, the school census shows that newcomer numbers are very small. Most of them go to primary schools.

Relating to crime, Professor Shirlow continued to dismantle more myths, showing that there is no evidence of a link between migration and rising crime levels. In fact, crime has actually decreased in those areas with a higher percentage of migrants.

The seminar ended with the intervention of a speaker from the Centre for Democracy and Peacebuilding, and their efforts to change the propaganda surrounding migrants. He recalled a story of a German immigrant that ended up building the industrial area of Belfast and creating one of the major companies settled in the city, that being Harland and Wolff, showing that migration is part of Belfast’s heritage.

This reflects what Belfast Lord Mayor stated at the beginning of the event, that “diversity is strength, and not a threat”.

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