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Brexit: Migrant and Minority Ethnic Communities

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 3rd October 2016.

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Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin 2:15 pm, 3rd October 2016

5. Mr McElduff asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister how their Department is making migrant workers and minority ethnic communities feel welcome following the result of the referendum on membership of the European Union. (AQO 356/16-21)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will ask junior Minister Ross to answer this question.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

Thank you. A number of actions were taken immediately after the referendum. As the Member will be aware, the First Minister and deputy First Minister provided assurances to our valued migrant and minority ethnic communities in a joint statement. We continue to work towards a society of welcome and belonging. In September, junior Minister Fearon and me launched the community relations and cultural awareness week, supported by the Executive Office, which brought together communities through the arts, open days and discussion. Our officials are in contact with representatives from the EU migrant communities to help them assert their rights and continue our long-standing relationship of appreciation and respect. We can assure people from European countries and other migrants living here that they are very much welcome and valued in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I take this opportunity to commend the work of organisations in my constituency; ethnic community support groups in Omagh and Strabane. They do tremendous work. What plans do the Executive have in place to make life easier and more fulfilled for child refugees?

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

As the Member will be aware, 200 refugees have come to Northern Ireland; to Belfast, Londonderry and Craigavon. I had the opportunity to meet one of those individuals, who relocated to Northern Ireland quite recently, at an event in Dungannon. I must say that I was incredibly encouraged by the fact that he has found Northern Ireland to be a very welcoming place. Although it is difficult to come to a new country, he has found it a very welcoming place.

For child refugees specifically, we are aware of Home Office plans to establish a resettlement scheme for refugee children at risk. There is a range of complex issues to consider regarding the resettlement of children. The UN and other humanitarian charities are clear that efforts to reunite children with relatives of extended family should be given priority. In most cases, this means that they should remain in the region to improve their chances of being reunited with their families. We have demonstrated our commitment to assisting with the humanitarian crisis through the Executive's participation in the resettlement of refugees, including families with children, through the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme. That scheme is the first formal refugee resettlement programme in which the Executive have participated. We will consider what role we may play in any plans to resettle child refugees once more detailed proposals emerge. This would include an assessment of our capacity to meet the specific needs of child refugees.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

If, as indicated by Theresa May's conference speech yesterday — albeit that she is less squeamish than this Government about revealing her plan, to the extent that she has one — it does look as though we are going towards a hard Brexit, will the Executive advocate on behalf of those citizens from other EU countries who are currently working here to protect their freedom of movement and the interests of the Northern Irish businesses that rely so heavily on migrant labour?

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

We have already moved to reassure those EU migrants living in Northern Ireland that they are very much welcome and are helping them to understand their rights. As Members will know, immigration is a reserved matter, so it is not a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, the immigration policy will have a practical impact on many companies in Northern Ireland. That is exactly why the First Minister and deputy First Minister, in the joint letter to the Prime Minister, indicated the priorities from a Northern Ireland perspective and the importance of migrant workers for many key industries, including the agri-sector. That will be a continuing part of the discussions that we have with Her Majesty's Government.

Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP

I thank the Minister for his answers. Will he outline how many attacks have been recorded targeting members of the black and minority communities since the EU referendum?

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

I thank the Member for raising the issue. I am pleased to say that, unlike in England and Wales, Northern Ireland has not seen a spike in racially motivated attacks against our ethnic communities. Indeed, the general trajectory is of a decreasing number of attacks. That said, we cannot be complacent. Too many attacks are still happening. We want to make sure that we continue to work with the Justice Minister and the PSNI to ensure that those sorts of attacks are not tolerated. We have a racial equality strategy, and the racial equality group met last month for the first time. It will meet again on 8 November.

What we are doing collaboratively with those ethnic minority groups is recognising and identifying their key needs and how we can ensure that we continue to work towards creating not just a tolerant Northern Ireland but one that celebrates diversity and the cultural richness that we now have in the modern Northern Ireland.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Is the Minister aware of the ComRes research that found that 77% of "Leave" voters wanted to ensure that the status of EU migrants was protected post-referendum? Does he also agree that it is essential that we move forward from the referendum united as a community in condemnation of all those who would engage in such attacks?

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

Of course — I absolutely do. Some of the work that I have been doing in this Department has allowed me to go out and see the activities that are going on with ethnic minorities across Northern Ireland. I had the privilege of helping to launch, along with junior Minister Fearon, the community relations and cultural awareness week. That was a fabulous week of activities. Over 160 events across Northern Ireland allowed ethnic minorities to come together, explain more about their cultures and allow those conversations to take place.

I am also assured by listening to comments directly from some ethnic minority groups, and some of the refugees who have come and created a new life in Northern Ireland, of how welcoming they have found Northern Ireland. We should all be immensely proud of that.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Did the Minister hear his party colleague Gregory Campbell on 'The Nolan Show' this morning talking about allies in Hungary? If so, does he think it credible for the DUP to talk about these allies, given the track record of Orbán and Jobbik on refugees? If he has not heard it, I am happy to read it out to him.

Photo of Alastair Ross Alastair Ross DUP

No, I did not. I do not make a habit of listening to 'The Nolan Show'.

[Laughter.]

It is better for my health that way, but I will be sure to have a look at the transcript.