Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland `moving towards a beautiful multicultural society'

Lilian Seenoi-Barr at a racial equality event in the Long Gallery Stormont. Picture by Mal McCann
Lilian Seenoi-Barr at a racial equality event in the Long Gallery Stormont. Picture by Mal McCann Lilian Seenoi-Barr at a racial equality event in the Long Gallery Stormont. Picture by Mal McCann

NORTHERN Ireland is already moving towards a "beautiful multicultural society" as the next generation grow up together, ethnic minority activists in the region believe.

The frustrations and hopes of asylum seekers, refugees and people of BAME backgrounds are explored tonight in Minority Report, part of UTV's Up Close current affairs programme.

Muhammad Atif from the Belfast Multicultural Association, which was gutted in an arson attack earlier this year, who moved from Pakistan 15 years ago, said he was overwhelmed by the public's donations to get the centre up and running again.

"It shows that the majority of the people in Northern Ireland are peaceful. They help others and they like to be part of charitable work."

He remains baffled by "a small portion of minorities" behind the attack.

"I don't know what their aims or motives are - I hope they'll come around. "I hope they'll see the positive picture. And I hope they'll see that they're not helping their own country."

SDLP councillor, Lilian Seenoi-Barr tells the programme the next generation must "mix with each other, to learn about every tradition, to learn about things that we care about... if they do that together as a united community, then Northern Ireland will progress".

Adekanmi Abayomi, a human rights lawyer who fled Nigeria eight years ago with his pregnant wife due to death threats after taking the government to court, believes it is already happening.

"I am strongly optimistic that we have that sweet and beautiful multicultural society in Northern Ireland where everyone feels safe, respected and celebrated. I strongly believe that. And it's happening."

However, Ms Seenoi-Barr said it has to be matched with support and action from the authorities.

She escaped to Derry with her son from Kenya 10 years ago, after her work rescuing girls as young as nine from marriage and female genital mutilation led to her life being threatened.

But her confidence in the PSNI was "shattered" after being cautioned by officers over a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

"I never doubted in my life I would be treated differently by a force that is supposed to protect me and it had a very, very bad impact on me."

The programme challenges junior ministers Gary Middleton and Declan Kearney on the `mothballed' Racial Equality Strategy 2015-2025, which has been the focus of recent pressure for full implementation by activists.

Mr Middleton says he wants "to be looking at that strategy at the end of the 10 years and say look, here is what we've achieved".

"We now have the Refugee Integration Strategy in place, we now have ethnic monitoring processes in place and people within the ethnic minority communities feel valued and [are] important aspects of our communities."

Mr Kearney insists "this executive is absolutely committed to ensuring that the north of Ireland is not a cold house for anyone - regardless of where you've come from, regardless of the colour of your skin or what country you came from."

:: Up Close: Minority Report UTV tonight at 8pm.