Belfast Telegraph

Unique challenges facing Belfast’s migrants explored in documentary

By Claire Williamson

It's a documentary giving a fascinating insight into the untold stories of the lives of ethnic minorities in Belfast.

The idea for Where Is Belfast was created by former Queen's University student Priya Biring, who started the project several years ago after the city was dubbed the 'race hate capital of Europe'.

Priya, a 26-year-old British Indian from Kent, also experienced race hate crime during her time in Belfast, but being a student she felt she was sheltered in many ways that others aren't.

The documentary is funded by the Community Relations Council and features a range of families and individuals showcasing their first-hand accounts of what it is like to live in close-knit areas which have experienced decades of sectarianism and divide.

Priya said: "I couldn't believe what ethnic minorities were going through when they arrived in Belfast. Petrol bombs through windows, 'locals only' daubed on houses - these acts are quite difficult to swallow from British society.

"It is certainly something I would say is very different to the rest of the UK because of the violent past and greater sense of community here in Northern Ireland.

"I experienced my own share of race hate crime in Belfast, but being a student meant I was sheltered in so many ways other migrants are not."

But working on the project she learned things were not simply black and white.

Priya said: "As I got to know my contributors and understand their complex relationships within their communities, I realised there was lots more to explore and racism was a thin covering that, when smashed, revealed the true story of integration in Belfast.

"There are so many positive stories of integration and the sense of community here does help that. But there is a bittersweetness to it.

"As a migrant you are dropped into an unknown area, usually a working-class one and will create bonds in that area.

"Naturally you become sympathetic to either Protestants or Catholics, without becoming wholly aware of that.

"What I found is that divisions are still being enforced in this way.

"However, I think the film gives a big hint that the youth are the solution. Their apathy for politics and the government will trump the past."

Among those featured is a family from Tunisia who are living in the west of the city as refugees. Mum Jihen tells the camera: "They ask me sometimes are you with Protestants or with Catholics, I tell them, I am not with anybody."

Catch the documentary at the Oh Yeah Centre on August 19 and Framework on September 2

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