Belfast Telegraph

Integration 'is two-way traffic'

People in Northern Ireland need to take more responsibility for helping those from ethnic minority backgrounds integrate, it has been claimed.

Language and cultural challenges are not always well understood by the rest of society, lobbyists for Roma, travellers and other marginalised communities argued.

More support in obtaining housing and jobs should be given to those who face difficulties obtaining education and high mortality rates, campaigner Patrick Yu said. Some are in the clutches of gangmaster traffickers who force them to work for little or no money to pay back debts.

Mr Yu said: "Integration is a process, integration is a two-way traffic, it is not a one-way traffic.

"When you are talking about integration they impose the burden of responsibility on ethnic minorities, simply arguing you are not integrated, you do not speak English."

The executive director of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM) said at times people misunderstood the cultural or language barriers faced and added they needed to find places in shared neighbourhoods to help break those down.

On Census Day 2011, 1.8 per cent (32,400) of the resident population of Northern Ireland belonged to minority ethnic groups, more than double the proportion in 2001 (0.8 per cent), a recent Northern Ireland Assembly research paper showed.

In Dungannon local council area, nearly a tenth (9.4 per cent) of the resident population (5,400 persons) was born in either the EU 12 accession states or outside the EU.

Around 500 Roma live in Northern Ireland.

Efforts have been made in recent times to crack down on gangmasters who traffic people into Northern Ireland for forced labour or other purposes.

Mr Yu said: "If they could get access to jobs then they don't need to rely on those gangmasters."

He added: "When they go to the mainstream job then the interaction between the local and the Roma will increase."

Mr Yu gave evidence to Stormont's OFMDFM committee.

He said key strategies aimed at improving relations for ethnic minorities had been delayed and warned common assumptions about the Roma, for example, were wrong.

"We always assume they are coming from Romania, which is untrue. We have a huge Roma population across Europe, more than 11 million people from different states of Europe."

Many live in a few streets in the Holyland area of mainly rental terraced accommodation in South Belfast which has traditionally housed students.

Mark Donohue, a member of the Traveller and Gypsy Network, who was born on a Travellers' site on the Glen Road in West Belfast, said only around 40% were nomadic and even they returned to the settlement once a year.

"Some travellers do want to be settled, some travellers do want to stay nomadic.

"Nomadism does not mean to be segregated, they want to be integrated. Travellers are not completely nomadic, they will always have a base."

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