Belfast Telegraph

Appeal on public services diversity

Garda, immigration and social welfare officers should undergo d iversity and anti-racism training, a leading migrant support group has said.

Interviews with 40 young men who set up new lives in Ireland found they felt disconnected from public services because of a lack of ethnic diversity in state agencies.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland made a string of recommendations after the study found men reported discrimination at school, in sport, at work and by public authorities as the main challenges they face.

The report concluded that prejudice was often more damaging that overt racism.

Immigrants said t hey were concerned about being cut off from family and loved ones by immigration rules.

Brian Killoran, the group's chief executive, said the issues of prejudice when migrants seek to use public services are most worrying.

"The frequency which the men speak of experiencing discrimination by the authorities is very concerning, as are the obstacles they outline in terms of treatment at school and perceived barriers to advancement at work," he said.

The study looked at the experiences of men under the age of 28 from Africa, Asia, South America and eastern Europe and who now live in Ireland.

Many spoke positively of their experiences with state agencies but the council said the general impression left from many was the need for the G arda and other public services to take a whole organisational approach to diversity.

Examples of racism included verbal abuse on the streets with remarks like "go back to your country", or a Muslim pupil in school who faced the jibe "do you have a bomb in your bag?" when the bomb squad was called out, while a teacher in another school inappropriately referred to a student as Allah.

One worker recalled being told they had been unsuccessful in a promotion when they had not yet applied.

Festivals such as St Patrick's Day increased the likelihood of abusive or racist incidents, the study found.

It also said that while everyone may be subject to such incidents, migrants are more often targeted and young people are more likely to be the perpetrators.

The report called for complaint mechanisms for youngsters, and said migrants under 16 should be given the status of statutory permanent residence, while more English language courses should be made available to help immigrants assimilate.

Mr Killoran said the interview-based report was an opportunity to hear voices which are often ignored or forgotten when public policy is debated.

"At special focus groups the men spoke of coming here with a sense of hope and most consider life here far more favourable to that in their country of birth - but they have identified challenges which we must not ignore," he said.

"The low numbers of migrants in our public services and in public life has created a disconnect."

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