Minutes of Group Meeting November 5th 2014

In attendance: Beatrice, Claudia, Gee, Helen, Kirsty, Liz M, Leo, Mehmet, Paddy, Paul

Apologies: Heiko, Carolyn

The ad hoc meeting consisted solely of a seminar led by visiting speaker, Steve Symonds.

Steve introduced himself as AIUK’s new researcher on refugee rights. His visit to Belfast consisted of speaking with NGOs and organisations(including the Belfast Law Centre and NICRAS, the Northern Ireland Community for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), AI activists and staff and others, and exploring the possibilities for future research and activity in Northern Ireland on refugee, asylum and related issues. The discussion was, at times, quite broad – bringing in wider UK matters, including the forthcoming general election and the rise of UKIP.

More specifically, the discussion focused in an exploratory and open-minded way on issues that were more particular to Northern Ireland. In this latter respect, a number of themes and activities were identified by the participants and speaker whereby there might (or might not), depending on capacity, resources, etc, be scope for further Amnesty input in Northern Ireland. These issues included:

1. Detention/Asylum: Notably the possibility or prospect that the Belfast Group of AI, and/or the AI office in Northern Ireland might play some role as regards the Larne Detention Centre – bearing in mind though that the question of added value would come into this discussion.

2. Refugee Week: The Belfast Group’s participation in Refugee Week 2014 was noted and it was felt that the Group could build upon this work in 2015. Again, questions of added value and working with other NGOs would be important here.  Also, refugee input into the seminar focused on the need to explain Amnesty’s role in refugee work.

3. Destitution: The speaker pointed to this aspect as a feature of Amnesty UK’s work in GB and the Belfast Group wanted more information here and possibly more practical input from the speaker in due course.

4. Anti-racist work: The Belfast Group noted that, over recent times, they had played an active role, alongside Amnesty’s Belfast office, and in cohesion with other organisations such as the trade union movement (NIC-ICTU) and NICEM (the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities), in campaigning against racism in Northern Ireland. It was felt that this activity included support for refugees, asylum seekers and minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland and that, regrettably, this kind of campaigning activity would continue in the years ahead. The speaker noted that this matter, racism, had been raised by all the individuals and groups/organisations that he had spoken to during his visit to Northern Ireland.

5. Syria: There was some discussion of AIUK’s aspiration to work alongside other NGOs, including the Refugee Council, at local levels in the context of the City of Sanctuary initiative. It was pointed out that the Belfast Group had not discussed this initiative yet and that it would feature at the next monthly meeting of the group. Suffice to say that Section (i.e. AIUK’s London office) had floated the idea of a Northern Ireland input here, but the initiative was still at an early stage, notwithstanding the urgency of giving more support to the Syrian people.

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