News 2006

Church Leaders visit Welcome Centre
On 1st June 2006, leaders of the four largest churches in Northern Ireland visited a day centre which provides basic support to migrant workers who are sleeping rough. They were invited by members of churches and voluntary organisations seeking to raise awareness of this escalating issue.

Northern Ireland is benefiting greatly from the many migrant workers who are coming into the province. The vast majority are employed in a wide range of industries and services and provide a very valuable contribution to our society and economy. Their tax and national insurance contributions are also significant.

However a small number are unable to find work or keep their jobs and become destitute. Factors contributing to this include employer exploitation, poor language skills, and work related accidents. Once unemployed, and not entitled to welfare payments, these workers struggle to maintain payments for rented accommodation and within a relatively short period of time can find themselves on the streets.

There have been a number of well publicised incidents regarding migrant workers sleeping rough on park benches and parked cars over the past few months. The most graphic example of the situation was that of Oksana Sukhanova, who lost both her legs following frostbite which had resulted from having to live on the streets during the winter of 04/05. Despite the outcry then, the reality is that the situation is far worse now, with many, many more migrant workers destitute.

The only safety net is provided by hostels for the homeless. However the hostel providers receive no support from the Department of Social Development for the places they provide and therefore they have to bear the cost themselves.

The Simon Community and the Welcome Centre are two organisations at the forefront of providing support for migrant workers who are sleeping rough. The Welcome Centre is a day centre, which provides hot food and shelter.

Mandy Jones from the Simon Community, spoke of the support they were providing for migrant workers. She highlighted several success stories where migrant workers who were homeless had been reintegrated into the workplace through the intervention of the Simon Community.

Rev Richard Kerr, who coordinated the visit, spoke of the need for action by Government, statutory bodies, businesses, voluntary agencies and Churches. “We cannot accept a situation where people, who are making such a significant contribution to our society, are being treated as second class citizens and have no access to a basic safety net in times of hardship.”

Change of Government policy on Immigration Detention Immigration detainees will no longer be held in Northern Ireland following a change in UK Government policy. Detainees will now be sent to removal centres in Scotland and England, separating them from family, community and legal support here. See Immigration detention page for more information.

Belfast Church in Racist Attack
On 9th March St Columcille’s in Ballyhackamore, East Belfast, was desecrated with graffiti, including racist, sectarian and sexual slogans. Many of its parishoners are Polish and Filipino workers from nearby Ulster Hospital. BBC report