BY KEVIN BRISKIN
The United Nations made the matter clear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own," and "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." Europe is facing the daunting challenge of managing hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping the horrors of their homelands while upholding the human rights entrenched in the UN's declaration. World leaders, charity organizations, activists, and everyday people moved by the images of displaced and deceased refugees have united behind the cause of housing and caring for refugees. However, there are still holdouts who are skeptical of the need to take in refugees or the impact of allowing foreigners into their countries' borders. Fortunately, according to experts those fears can be assuaged.
The Belonging Project seeks to exhibit new cultures and break down the walls between those born in Northern Ireland and those who come from somewhere else and bring their own unique identities. Belonging shows that differences in culture, ethnicity, and country of origin are nothing to be feared or discriminate against. But what about the issues beyond culture? Are migrants and refugees to be feared for economic reasons?
According to a Queen's University report commissioned by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building last year, the answer is a resounding "no". In fact, migrants contributed £1.2 billion to the Northern Ireland economy from 2004 to 2008 the report says. Looking at statistics on population, employment, benefits, healthcare, education, crime, and social cohesion Professor Peter Shirlow and Dr. Richard Montague claim that migrants actually provide more for Northern Ireland than is asked for in return. Despite a disproportionate use of the NHS budget, migrants overall pay more in taxes than they cost in services.
The report was commissioned in response to racial hate crimes was supported by former Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon. "The report provides a strong evidence base for Belfast as a city to be able to champion the positive social and economic benefits of diversity and to continue to promote Belfast as a welcoming city," Mallon declared.
Now, a year after the report was published, Europe is facing a crisis of migration and refugees. Displaced people, largely from Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, are attempting to find safety beyond their home borders. According to Sweden's Minister for Migration Morgan Johansson, refugees in the current crisis can have the same positive impact on European countries as indicated in the 2014 report. "In the long run it can be a benefit for a country," says Johansson. "Just see that the Syrians who are coming to Sweden; one third of them, one third, have a higher education. They have at least two years on a university level. That's medical doctors, that's engineers, that's nurses, that's sometimes people that we know we really need in the Swedish economy. We need them right now. We'll need them even more in the coming years."
The economic activity of migrants often outpaces those born and raised in Northern Ireland, states the Belfast Telegraph. The same article notes that migrants contribute in less tangible ways, such as having encouraging new ideas and improving efficiency. Migrants "have helped our public services, particularly health and care services, to continue functioning and made a significant contribution to the cultural diversity and attractiveness of Northern Ireland."
Following the release of the Queen's University report in 2014, Professor Shirlow declared that "The report and its findings are profoundly important because they completely rebut the stereotypes that have plagued our migrant population in recent years.
"People need to be educated about the facts.
"We frequently hear claims that migrants take our jobs and use up our limited services. Migrants pose no threat to our society. This report will hopefully go some way towards changing the conversation about migrants in Northern Ireland."
The Belfast Telegraph articles concludes that "Our experience of immigration in Northern Ireland has been largely positive. People from other places have come here and played a valuable part in enriching our towns and cities. Refugees, given the chance, could do the same."