An important spotlight has been placd on the barriers faced by many members of the State’s African community when seeking employment by the publication of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report on the integration of migrant communities in Ireland.
The study found that 16 per cent of African nationals were unemployed last year compared to 7 per cent of Irish people and 4 per cent of western Europeans living in the State. It also shows the employment rate for African nationals was around 45 per cent compared to 66 per cent for Irish nationals.
Salome Mbugua, the founder of the Migrant Women’s Network AkiDwA, accused the State of failing to acknowledge the discrimination which she said is preventing many Africans from finding employment.
She added that she was shocked to see the ESRI report draw the conclusion that the struggle to find jobs could be caused by the fact that many Africans were refugees, saying that “many black Irish have been here many years. From a country point of view we need to be able to name the actual problem which is discrimination”.
The report does acknowledge that “racism and discrimination may be major causes of African labour market disadvantage in Ireland” but adds that spending time in the direct provision system could also be a factor in the unemployment levels.
Ms Mbugua accused departments outside the Department of Justice of failing to take responsibility for the needs of migrant communities. “The Department of Education and Department of health of a lot to play too. The integration of migrants is everyone’s business because migrants are part of the Irish community now.”
Prof Mary Gilmartin from Maynooth University, who also spoke at the launch of the report on Wednesday, echoed the findings of the ESRI in warning of low political engagement and voting rates among the migrant population, underlining the low number of migrants among elected representatives. She also called for an examination of the successes and failures of integration programmes regionally as well as nationally, saying that certain areas in the country may be more active in embracing their migrant communities than other.
The report notes that Ireland’s political system offers “relatively positive opportunities for migrant integration compared to most EU countries” and that all residents in Ireland, regardless of nationality, may stand and vote in local elections. Yet to date voter turnout among migrant communities, which make up 17 per cent of the State’s population, remains relatively low.
Oonagh Buckley, the recently appointed deputy secretary general of the Department of Justice, has said this country’s migrant population plays a “critically important role” in the social, political, economic and societal health of this State. However, unless the Government recognises its collective role in supporting migrants and encouraging their political participation, this country is at risk of following in the footsteps of its European neighbours and pushing these recent arrivals to the fringes of Irish society.