Workshops at the Salvation Army Family Centre
Working with Refugees in Northern Ireland The woman from Zimbabwe had fled for her life from that country a year ago. She shared her grief for her friends and colleagues who have been murdered while she was fortunate to escape. She shared the sorrow of knowing that her mother is aging and she can’t be there to help and care for her. Will she see her again? The hardship and pain of this young woman’s story was tangible to those there listening.“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” (Matthew 2:13)
We heard Mazvita’s* story at the EMBRACE NI Workshops on Refugee Issues at the Salvation Army Family Centre in North Belfast recently. It was a great opportunity to meet with staff and learn about their work.
In recent years the population in Northern Ireland has changed. Now there are thousands of people from different countries who call this place home. All have different reasons for migrating here (e.g. to study, to find work or a better life). However, a small group of people had to flee their own country, because of persecution or a threat to their lives – they came to Northern Ireland to find a safe place, to seek asylum here.
The UK is home to fewer than 2% of the total number of refugees in the world. The UK Border Agency recorded only 140 applications in Northern Ireland in 2012. The top countries of origin of asylum applicants in N Ireland in 2012 were as follows: 48 Somalia, 30 China, 13 Sudan, 9 Zimbabwe, 8 Syria, 6 Iran, 5 Nigeria, 4 India, 3 Kuwait, 2 Palestine, 2 Sri Lanka.
People seeking asylum face many challenges such as coping with trauma, separation from family members, ill health, anxiety about the outcome of the application, limited income, problems with language, bewilderment at getting to know how a different culture works, loneliness and isolation and the difficulty of making new friends. Those who find themselves in Salvation Army accommodation can benefit if the staff understand the experiences they have had and what it feels like to be a refugee.
*the name is changed
Embracing issues of asylum and migration
The terms, ‘a migrant, an asylum seeker, and refugees have such negative meanings’, stated one of the participants at the EMBRACE workshops for churches. Another participant observed: ‘If someone from here (NI) migrates to Australia or New Zealand, we don’t see him or her as a migrant’.On the 20th of August at Edgehill College in Belfast, EMBRACE NI held a set of workshops entitled, ‘Beyond the Myths’. They focused on addressing myths relating to migration and people seeking asylum. Participants had opportunities to hear personal stories and learn some facts about migration and the asylum process. The workshops allowed for small group discussion in an informal café style setting.Participants met a gentleman who came to Northern Ireland from Chile. He came to Belfast to study. His experience as an immigrant has for the most part been very positive. Of course there were little things to overcome, like no one passing the football to him, but he feels that some of that is to be expected. He believes it is incumbent on the immigrant to earn the trust of the community. “Everyone is a product of immigration,” he says, citing his Catalonian ancestry as well as his wife’s German heritage. “Immigration is a two way thing”.Nowadays around 214 million people in the world live outside their country of birth – one in 33. And over 80 million people in the world have Irish blood. People have moved from their home countries for centuries, for all sorts of reasons, including the demand for workers in countries like the UK. Migrant numbers have risen rapidly in the last decade.A person seeking asylum from Zimbabwe has had a much more difficult journey. She shared her story of having lost her entire family to the turmoil of her home country. She had to flee. In 2010 she came to NI seeking asylum. The process, as is often the case, took many months during which she received around £35 per week to live on. She was not allowed to work during this time. Eventually, she was denied refugee status and her financial support was cut off. She found herself on the street with no recourse to public funds and she lost all hope. Fortunately, her circumstances have improved and she has been volunteering at the Belfast Friendship Club. She says “If you’re down – get busy”. She is still not allowed to work, and her status in NI remains unresolved.The Bible encourages us to welcome strangers in our midst – not always an easy task in the present economic and political climate. There are many myths and negative attitudes around migration and asylum due in large part to misinformation but also to a simple failure to identify with migrants as fellow humans.According to the 2011 Census 95.49% of the people living in Northern Ireland were born in the UK or the Republic of Ireland. Of the remaining 4.51%, 45,407 were born elsewhere in the European Union leaving only 36,046 people from other countries.
The 2013 EMBRACE Spring Meeting and AGM was held on Thursday, May 16th in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the launch of EMBRACE. In recognition of reaching this point, the Spring Meeting provided an overview of migration over the past 10 years and also considered what the possible future developments may be. The keynote address was given by Dr Duncan Morrow (see DVD recording above). Jenna Liechty Martin and Peter Martin who have been volunteers with EMBRACE for almost three years presented a reflection on what they had learned being both host and guest in Northern Ireland during their time here. Read the talk here.
November 2012 And You Welcomed Me Workshops for Churches held in Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey
On the 15th and 26th of November EMBRACE workshops were held in Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey. They were organised by Lynda Kennedy, R/EID Project Officer from Carrickfergus, Antrim, Newtownabbey Peace III Partnership. Topics discussed at the workshops included:
– Who’s who? Who’s here?
– Start where you are / Lifting language barriers
– Lost in Translation – Exploring cultural differences
– ‘Hot Potatoes’ – Helping a stranger in need
Throughout the evening participants had the opportunity to join in conversation around the topics listed above in an informal, café-dialogue manner. By the end of the workshops, participants conveyed that they felt better informed and more equipped to respond to the issues in their own communities.
The following reflections were shared by some who attended the workshops. They noted that most valuable aspects of the workshop were:
– Information on schemes that are in place, what help is available and what opportunities there are to assist.
– Improving my knowledge and giving me a better understanding of the issues; hopefully as a church we will follow up what we’ve learned tonight.
– Discussing ways in which to engage with other nationalities.
– Finding out more information in regards to situation in NI
– Hearing about Polish culture
– I was not aware of some of the issues raised such as migrant/refugee status.
– Having time to think through these issues
Workshops are a great opportunity to share, learn and exchange our knowledge and experience. If you would like a similar EMBRACE event to be held in your town/city, please contact Aneta at email@example.com
September 2012 Migration Awareness Training in Armagh
On the 22nd of September EMBRACE delivered Migration Awareness Training to a group of volunteers in a local church in Armagh. The church hosts English classes for beginners. Volunteers provide a warm welcome to people who are new to the Armagh area. The training was very well received; participants gave encouraging feedback:
– The interaction was great + made information more easily remembered. Very encouraging.
– Just being made more aware of the whole issue of migration
– Having time to consider more issues than just language
– Gave me an understanding of the position migrants find themselves in
– Structured approach to discussing migrants. This is the start of a process
– Clarification of migrants rights and entitlements
– Encouraged to see we are actually doing most things properly. Also gained further useful information.
– Better understanding of the rights and entitlements
The training is an interactive session which explores inward and outward migration and the rights of migrant workers in N Ireland. It aims to dispel myths and provide practical information on issues relating to migration. If you would like to host Migration Awareness Training at your church / group, please contact Aneta at firstname.lastname@example.org
On 24th February 2012 EMBRACE launched a multilingual welcome poster at Belfast City Hall. EMBRACE Chairperson, Denise Wright and Councillor Marie Hendron (pictured with the poster) spoke of the value of communicating welcome through materials such as the poster. A Press Release with details of the event can be viewed here. Some supporting materials were also prepared and available at the event including a booklet with phrases to assist in communicating welcome across language differences. The poster and other materials are available from our office and at all EMBRACE events.
BBC Lifeline Appeal on behalf of EMBRACE
The BBC Lifeline Appeal for Autumn 2011 included a request for support for the EMBRACE Emergency Fund. In the short programme Gerry Anderson reflected on his experience of being a migrant and introduced people who have migrated to N Ireland in recent years. For some, language learning and delays in processing paperwork are challenges in settling. A small number of others face larger issues including poverty and homelessness. We are challenged to respond in appropriate welcome and
encouraged to support the EMBRACE Emergency Fund which responds to migrant destitution. View the appeal online here.
Seeds of Hope: EMBRACE Spring Meeting and AGM
The EMBRACE Spring Meeting and AGM was held on Tuesday, May 10th in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast. A report on the evening will be carried in the summer edition of the EMBRACE news sheet. Our thanks to all who came along and to our speakers, Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal (pictured, left) and Helen Young.
Morning of reflection
On 4th April the EMBRACE Committee, staff and volunteers spent a morning in reflection at Drumalis Retreat Centre in Larne. Sr Anna Hainey facilitated reflection based on the feeding of the five thousand (Matt 14). A time of quiet contemplation guided by Bible readings, poetry and artwork, led to sharing of responses and fellowship as the group shared a meal together.
God is the giver and at the same time the Gift. He is the multiplier. He is himself the Bread of Life. He is food for the journey. (Extract from the reflection)
EMBRACE workshops for churches are held in Newry
On Saturday, 12th March EMBRACE held a set of workshops for churches seeking to engage with migrant people, at Bagenal’s Castle, Newry. Topics explored included how to develop existing church activities to be more inclusive of newcomers, how to run English language classes, and Friendship Clubs and Drop-In centres as means of building relationships. The workshops also provided guidance and contacts for dealing with complex issues such as immigration status and benefits. You can read more about the workshops here.
Our thanks to Newry and Mourne District Council and the Newry District Inter-Church Forum for their assistance in facilitating the event.
Generous response to Emergency Fund Appeal
The very cold weather in December had led to increased requests for funding for means of providing an alternative to sleeping rough for destitute migrant people. Short-term hostel accommodation and transport to family and friends who could provide a place to stay were funded through the Emergency Fund. This increase in demand meant that funds were running low but an appeal for support was responded to with great generosity and speed. This allowed us to continue to provide this vital support. Our sincere thanks to all who contributed.
Emergency Fund Christmas Appeal
EMBRACE made an appeal for contributions to the Emergency Fund following severe weather and an increased number of requests for assistance. The generous response to this appeal is greatly appreciated. Emergency Fund Appeal
NICRAS Christmas Party Cancelled The annual Christmas party for people seeking asylum, due to be held on Friday 17th December had to be cancelled because of the heavy snow.
June 2010: EMBRACE hosts events during the Belfast Inclusion Festival
The Inclusion Festival consists of a wide variety of events hosted by different organisations, held across Belfast during the month of June. This year EMBRACE hosted a Global Cafe at Willowfield Parish Church and a Voices Together Concert at City Church. The cafe provided an opportunity to discuss issues relating to migration whilst the concert celebrated the triumphant harmony of individual voices coming together. Thank you to all who participated, attended and contributed to the Emergency Fund at these events.
May 2010: EMBRACE Spring Meeting focuses on migrant destitution
The Spring Meeting, entitled Destitution & Migration: Who cares?, provided an opportunity to consider the reasons migrant people become destitute and how local agencies are responding. Maura McCallion of the Law Centre provided an overview of the legal and social situation, and Sandra Moore (pictured) of the Welcome Organisation showed the implications of these through a powerful presentation of images and information on homeless people in Belfast. A time to reflect on how the situation could be addressed was followed by a challenge by former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev John Dunlop, to overcome barriers of difference, notice and respond to people.
MAY 2010: EMBRACE Appoints Development Worker
Aneta Dabek, originally from Poland, was appointed Development Worker for EMBRACE. Aneta’s focus will be on building relationships with churches, to learn good practices of welcome and integration, and to share and encourage such initiatives with others.
February 2010: EMBRACE considers a Christian Response to Migration
EMBRACE looked at how churches might respond in welcome to migrant people in their locality at two Information Sharing evenings held in Belfast and in Ballymena. There was also information on EMBRACE’s involement with other groups and directly with Roma people and other vulnerable migrants, including people seeking asylum.
January 2010: EMBRACE hosts ‘Still a Place of Sanctuary’
In response to the UK Government’s consultation on changes to the asylum support system, EMBRACE invited interested parties to a morning discussion event. Liz Griffiths, Policy Officer at the Law Centre NI was the main speaker and provided information on the system and what the changes might mean.
January 2010: EMBRACE produces revised ‘Who’s who’ leaflet
A new revised edition of the flier ‘Who’s who? who’s here?’ has been prepared. The leaflet includes summary information on people seeking asylum and migrant workers. Hard copies are available free on request, and the flier can be downloaded from the EMBRACE resources page of this website.
EMBRACE would like to thank all who have made donations to the Emergency Fund following the racist attacks on Roma people in S Belfast in June 2009.
In the past this fund has been used to support a variety of needs where there was no recourse to public funds. These have included providing short-term hostel accommodation and flights home for destitute migrant workers, and food and accommodation for people seeking asylum. In every case there was no recourse to public funds and support was given through partner organisations.
During the crisis in June the Emergency Fund served as a channel of support for the Roma people. Much of the finance required to provide shelter and fund the return of those Roma who chose to go back to Romania, was given through the local Housing Executive, however further much needed support came from churches, church groups and individuals. We are grateful to all who have made it possible for us to help by donating to the Emergency Fund. The Fund continues to support Roma people where there is need and no other means of funding. At present we are assisting school pupils with provision of bus passes and uniforms.
If you would like to help, please download, complete and return the donation form here [PDF].