The experiences of minority ethnic and migrant people in Northern Ireland – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report.

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At the time of the 2011 Census, Northern Ireland was the least ethnically diverse region of the UK. Upcoming figures from the 2021 Census are widely expected, however, to show an increase in the ethnic diversity of the population. Many of the issues that affect minority ethnic people in Northern Ireland fall within the remit of the NI Executive, which is scrutinised by Assembly Committees. Nevertheless, the significance of the evidence we received, and the importance of the concerns we heard from a range of communities across the region, lead us to make a number of requests of, and suggestions to, the Executive, in the hope that it will respond constructively to the points we have made.

The public and political spheres have so far largely failed to reflect the growing diversity of Northern Ireland, with very few—and, in some cases, no—people from ethnic minorities represented in local government or by parties at the Assembly. Mainstream preoccupation with the traditional Green and Orange divide has left little political attention available for other important matters in Northern Ireland, with many minority ethnic communities feeling overlooked by politicians and policy makers as a result.

The Executive have published two racial equality strategies, in 2005 (running until 2010) and 2015 (which runs until 2025). Since their publication, some positive advances have been made (with the establishment of a Racial Equality Subgroup in 2016 and a review of the Minority Ethnic Development Fund), but we are concerned by the slow pace at which the Executive has sought to realise many of the aims and actions of those strategies. Ethnic monitoring, to help evaluate progress made on equality initiatives and identify the service needs of communities, has still not been introduced. Likewise, anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation, areas in which NI lags behind the rest of the UK, have still not been updated. With the number of racially motivated hate crimes now higher than those with a sectarian motivation, the statute books must be updated urgently. We urge The Executive Office to take these policies forward as a matter of priority once a new Executive has been formed following the Assembly elections in May.

Since 2015, many Syrian families have made their home in Northern Ireland under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). While we heard praise for the consortium model adopted in Northern Ireland, witnesses also reported mixed experiences regarding access to, and provision of, services for families once settled. Northern Ireland is also playing catch-up with the rest of the UK when it comes to a dedicated refugee integration strategy, although a draft strategy was recently out for consultation. We ask that these issues be addressed as part of the final Refugee Integration Strategy, and done so at pace. With families soon to start arriving as part of the Afghan resettlement scheme, and almost certainly from Ukraine, it is important to reflect on and learn the lessons of the VPRS.

Compared with the wider population, the Irish Traveller community encounter persistent inequalities and poorer outcomes in areas such as health, education and accommodation. The Executive Office should set out how it is tackling those challenges, and what achievements have been made by the groups it has set up to consult Travellers.

Given the significance of the issues raised in this report, we ask The Executive Office to reply setting out its response to our findings, as well as an update on recent progress made in this policy area which, along with the minority ethnic and migrant population in Northern Ireland, is of growing importance.