Attended the official opening of the Belfast Migrant Centre, located at Ascot House, Shaftesbury Square, Belfast. This centre was the result of Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM) and its Welcome House project, a central advice and support centre for people from ethnic minority communities in Belfast and across Northern Ireland.
The Belfast Migrant Centre is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and its Reaching Communities programme. The centre will operate as a partnership among NICEM, UNISON, Polish Association Northern Ireland, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
After the official opening by Councillor Pat Convery (Lord Mayor of Belfast) and Patrick Taran (International Labour Organization (ILO)), there were several short speeches.
The Lord Mayor described Belfast as a city in transition. It is now a city of choice for new arrivals, in contrast to the history of emigration. He underlined the points that diversity presents opportunities and openness is the key to economic success. For him, migrants are people who have a legitimate stake in the city.
Alan Shannon (Permanent Secretary at the Department of Employment and Learning) stepped in for Minister Danny Kennedy. Mr Shannon said that immigration has been a continuous process in Ireland, over many hundreds of years. Speaking for his Executive Department, he said that he believed they have a decent framework for the protection of ethnic minority and migrant rights, but an admitted weakness is in the area of dissemination of information. Here, he was very pleased to be working with the Belfast Migrant Centre.
Patrick Taran, a Senior Migration Specialist at ILO, described the centre as a symbolic coming of age, as an example of best practice that he can share with other ILO members.
Anna Lo MLA appeared right at the end of the formal proceedings, and made impromptu remarks of congratulations. She also said that it was important that the burden of protecting minority rights does not fall mainly on minority organisations, but vitally includes other organisations, such as statutory bodies and trade unions.
Unfortunately, I was unable to stay to mingle. But there was a good turnout of several dozen supporters, and I certainly wish them every success.
Belfast Migrant Centre website: http://belfastmigrantcentre.org
Official Press Release: http://mrulster.org/belfast-migrant-centre-official-opening#