Campaigners hail positive impact of ethnic minorities and migrant workers
More must be done to champion the contribution of ethnic minorities and migrant workers in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.
Peter Osborne, chairman of the Community Relations Council, described the rise in hate crimes as disturbing and appealed for political leaders to highlight the positive impact of inward migration.
He said: "Public representatives should shout out very loud and publicly what huge benefit Northern Ireland derives from BME (black and minority ethnic) communities and newcomers.
"Inward migration has uplifted us all socially, economically and culturally. Public services and many traditional industries depend on people born outside the UK or Ireland. Yet public policy and its implementation urgently needs to reflect this in better targeting race equality, better supporting BME organisations, and better promoting our intercultural future."
Mr Osborne was speaking as the 14th Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week kicks off.
More than 160 events are being staged across the region by a wide range of organisations, including schools, libraries, local councils, community and voluntary groups as well as a newly formed refugee orchestra, Orchestre des Refugies et Amis.
Among the issues being tackled are cultural diversity, racism, sectarianism, paramilitarism, language, sport, and dealing with the legacy of the past.
Mr Osborne added: "An 87% rise in crime with hate motivation in the last four years should be deeply troubling to this society. The Brexit vote has further sharpened concerns and fears. It is not that most people are racist - but those who are racist may now think more people agree with them than actually do. I believe the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland don't agree with the racists.
"In these circumstances, it is critically important that all people with a public voice stop using language that suggests newcomers to this region have somehow had a negative impact.
"We have an opportunity to create a new Northern Ireland - outward-looking, confident, inter-cultural - that isn't defined by its past. It will take the best of us all, whether British or Irish, newcomers or here for generations, because we all call this our home. We all have an equal part in shaping its future and we all can enrich this place going forward."
One of the biggest events of the week will see 3,500 young people come together to mark international peace day on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, those directly involved in peace-building will gather in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, on Tuesday for the Together: Building a United Community Engagement Forum.
Jacqueline Irwin, chief executive of the Community Relations Council, said: " We hope the week will also encourage everyone to see that we all need to play a part in building the future if it is to be a positive one."