I spoke at the annual conference of the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration last week, at Newtownabbey, Belfast. I can think of few events where I have felt more welcomed – thanks to the Northern Ireland Local Government Agency for organising this great event. This is from the Partnership’s website (with my bit at the bottom):
The first conference of the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership was held on the 19th of April, 2012 in Mossley Mill in Newtownabbey. Attendees came from the voluntary, community and statutory sectors to discuss the importance of immigration issues being explored at a local level. The beginning of the day explored the potential of the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership to help emphasise and address the specific regional needs of Northern Ireland in regards to immigration and integration, while the afternoon sessions featured specific actions on how the Partnership, the statutory and voluntary sectors can collaborate and cooperate to promote integration and support migrants.
NISMP Panel Session
During the first session, Board Members from the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership presented their priorities and objectives on issues of migration and integration, as well as outlining the work their own organisations have been doing in these areas. The panel featured: John O’Kane, SDLP Councillor from Fermanagh District Council; Mike Golden, Assistant Director for UKBA in the region of Scotland and Northern Ireland; Jo Marley, Director of Bryson Intercultural; and Maurice Rooney, Assistant Director of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
- The importance of recognising that while the rapid growth in migration has slowed recently, there continue to be increases in numbers of asylum seekers presenting in Northern Ireland and a growth in the rate of birth to mothers from outside the UK and Ireland. It is important that NI continues to prepare and adapt based on these demographic changes.
- The centrality of joint-working and communication across sectors to ensure best practice.
- The potential for the strategic migration partnership to be a central point of information and collaboration on migration and related issues and the need for more to be done to promote the work of the NISMP and raise awareness of the partnership’s potential.
‘Policy Toolkit’ Presentation from Derek Mitchell, Manager of the COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership in Scotland
Derek Mitchell presented to the conference on the COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership’s ‘Policy Toolkit’, which is an ongoing project to support local authorities in developing appropriate policy approaches to migration and integration based on the specific needs of that council area. The toolkit provides comprehensive information on specific policy issues, and the partnership provides practical support to local authorities when requested. The project, which was developed over a number of years using data gathered in conjunction with the General Registrar’s Office in Scotland, is supplemented with financial support from the Scottish Government. Mr. Mitchell outlined some of the challenges faced by the Scottish Strategic Migration Partnership since its inception more than 10 years ago, and remarked on the progress made by the NISMP in such a short time. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded here, and the policy toolkit can be downloaded here.
- Projects like the Policy Toolkit take a lot of time and background preparation, additional funding, and the cooperation of board members as well as other partner agencies. Developing strong working relationships across sectors is crucial to developing effective projects and utilising the regional partnerships to their maximum potential.
- Making the case for special regional needs to the Home Office is possible (for example, Scotland has a separate Shortage Occupation List for Tier 2 migrants); however a strong evidence base is central to this.
- Other regional strategic migration partnerships around the UK have been functioning for several years, and are happy to share their experiences and best practice.
‘Migration Information Portal’ Presentation from John Bell from Institute for Conflict Research
John Bell, lead researcher on the Migration Information Portal project recently commissioned by NISMP, presented an outline of the work which ICR will undertake on behalf of NISMP over the next several months. This initial research will provide a baseline for a central information database on migration and related issues on the NISMP website. Mr. Bell invited delegates to contribute ideas for evidence collection to the partnership and outlined the importance of establishing contacts within sectors to maintain an open line of communication and information sharing. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded here.
- The project is only a starting point and will continue to change and develop as more information becomes available and better networks of information sharing are built
- The issue of promoting integration of ethnic minority groups resident in Northern Ireland which are not necessarily migrants was raised. It was acknowledged that this will be important in the future, but that this initial project is more about establishing a strong foundation of data sharing.
- The project will be about consolidating existing information, making information more accessible and highlighting relevance to certain sectors, and identifying gaps in data.
Keynote Speech: Ben Gidley
Ben Gidley, senior researcher from the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), delivered the keynote speech on the importance of local authorities and communities in integration. He highlighted the key role of political leadership, community action and integration as a two-way process based on the findings from the UK report of the European-wide Attitudes to Migrants, Communication and Local Leadership (AMICALL) project. A copy of Ben’s presentation can be downloaded here and the AMICALL report can be accessed here. Dr. Gidley’s contact details can be found here.
Integration must be a proactive process, and is better on a very local level
Local Authorities where there is strong political leadership and positive messages about migration have better rates of integration and more positive attitudes towards migration within the community.
Positive media images about migrants and migration are important to integration.