Refugee Integration Strategy "of no effect" without removal of 'no work' policy

Lo'anna Stoica of Belfast Intercultural Romanian Community, Belfast Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl, Barbara Reid Mageean, Outreach Volunteer with Rosario FC, along with Adekanmi Abayomi and Mohamed Chandali of EMSONI at Belfast City Hall.
Picture: Declan Roughan Photography

STORMONT'S Refugee Integration Strategy is likely to be "ambiguous, unachievable, and of no effect", including in the sphere of elite sport, unless the 'no work permission' barrier is removed from asylum seekers.

That's the view of Adekanmi Abayomi, founder and chair of EMSONI, the Ethnic Minority Sports Organisation Northern Ireland, who notes that many such talented people are prevented "from from achieving full potential as professional sportspersons."

'Kanmi' explains: "Full potential differs, depending on an individual's possibility and aspiration. Some asylum seekers will be fully accomplished, being sport journalists, while some aspire to become professional footballers, or boxers, or even coaches.

"Asylum seekers currently cannot participate in elite sports, either as an athlete or coach – impeding them from achieving full potential as professional sportspersons.

"Many asylum seekers are so talented that they should be playing sports or coaching professionally but they cannot, even as volunteers, because of the Home Office's 'no work permission' policy.

"For instance, the Irish Football Association, as a governing body, will only register players with permission to work or a Tier 2 Visa. Although some asylum seekers are permitted to work in some specific areas sport is not included.

"A massive campaign is ongoing in the UK, lobbying the UK Government to allow asylum seekers to work in all sectors in the UK while EMSONI is presently campaigning for asylum seekers to be allowed to participate in elite sports voluntarily."

The consultation on the recently launched draft Refugee Integration Strategy 2022-2027 by The Executive Office (TEO), which ended on February 21 this year, has given interested parties and the public the opportunity to scrutinise this policy, especially from implementation point of view.

The essence of the Refugee Integration Strategy is to provide that framework for government to help refugees and asylum seekers, including those into sports, to achieve their full potential in Northern Ireland.

Mr Abayomi comments: "This policy is certainly well-articulated, with a great intention to integrate refugees and asylum seekers in the system. But I am of the view that TEO needs to understand the limits of its power in this regard so that implementation will be hitch-free, although I understand the willingness of the government to ensure that asylum seekers build new lives here in Northern Ireland.

"In 1998, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, some powers were devolved from Westminster to Stormont – meaning that Stormont will be responsible for policy in some areas – including agriculture, forestry and fishing, education, environment, health, housing, justice, policing and courts, local government, taxes including income tax, stamp duty and air passenger duty, and welfare and transport but with some exceptions.

"Obviously, the UK Government in Westminster remains responsible for policy on immigration, including the asylum system under the supervision of Home Office.

"With this reality, the question is – how would this Refugee Integration Strategy help asylum seekers achieve full potential when the promoters lack the political power to change the status quo?

"Helping asylum seekers to reach their full sport potential – will require removal of some systemic barriers, e.g. the 'no work permission' policy, and Stormont does not have the power to legislate on this issue.

"According to Lord Denning, in UAC V. MCFOY (1962) AC 152, "you cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand,"

The EMSONI founder points out other limitations in NI: "Two asylum seekers enjoy scholarships yearly to study undergraduate and postgraduate degrees programmes at Queen's University Belfast - but because of their 'ineligibility to work' they are exempted from partaking in the university's free developmental leadership programmes, designed to add more value to the students.

"From the foregoing, the current system will limit the implementation of the Refugee Integration Strategy because the policy lacks the political power needed to affect the full potential of asylum seekers in Northern Ireland.

"Since nothing can stand on nothing, therefore, the aim of the Refugee Integration Strategy to achieve full potential of asylum seekers would be considered ambiguous, unachievable, and of no effect in terms of practicality.

"I acknowledge that considerable and judicious time has been spent on the draft of this policy and for this effort to be well-adjudicated I will implore TEO to get it right at this preliminary stage because we have waited too long for this policy."

* Adekanmi Abayomi volunteers with EMSONI – Ethnic Minority Sports Organisation NI.

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