THIS column has been receiving feedback from those who are interested in the subjects of community relations, racial harmony, diverse cultures, migration, politics, food, education, religion, music – the list is endless.
Belfast is a great city destined for better things now and in years to come. The natives of Belfast – a loaded term now because of multiple new and old generations of people – find that their progress is aligned to the progress of new citizens. Newcomers are positively involved in many aspects of the city of Belfast. There are many things happening in Belfast now that were never there even, say,15 years ago. Just go to the restaurants in Botanic, a rich catalogue of Mediterranean, African, Asian and Arabic foods. The falafel joints are terrific.
For the sake of understanding and building a better relationship between citizens and newcomers, we should define two things. Refugees and asylum seekers are two groups that are misunderstood. The legal status of the two is like this: Refugees are people who have had to leave their country because it wasn’t safe for them and are able to live in another country. An asylum seeker is someone who has had to leave their own country and ask to live in a new country.
Now, there are some complex issues that come with human migration and these should be addressed. Migrants and the native populations anywhere can understand one another when they speak openly, it is not a war. So, there is an issue of age and migration. This column has very briefly touched on this in the past which didn’t do it any justice. So here goes – a second and more comprehensive attempt.
In 2020, it was reported by the Refugee Council that less than 1.5% of people who claimed asylum in Britain and the North lied about their age. In many cases officials have been reported to be pressing child asylum seekers to lie about their age. We all know that age is one of the crucial identities in every aspect of life. Young Irish and British people of the ages of 14, 15 and 16 will sometimes tell lies so they can be allowed into a club. Some will give lie so they can buy a drink at the local off-licences. In the football world, players who look much older than they really are will set their age younger so that they can get an exclusive contract. Age fabrication in football has earned itself the nickname 'football age'. The career span of a professional is never that long, so the ones who take the route of age fraud do it because they want to justify their longevity in football.
With regard to asylum seekers and refugees, human traffickers, state officials and even well-meaning people may want to influence their age decision in order to help them out. When arrivals give a lower age like 16 and under, they may face a lot of official red tape in education, social services, health and other public sectors. When they say that they are older than 18, they are more likely to be treated with ‘respect’, being that they are adults. The age assessors have a tough job, though, to determine whether the undocumented person is a child or an adult.
Migrants are trying to survive because after their experience crossing many difficult borders, they are now in their final destination where whatever they say to the border official is of course taken seriously by a good immigration agent who knows their job. Immigration officials are human; they have been given a bad review, it's been said that they are ruthless because they help to protect their borders by ensuring that suspect people don’t seep through.
It is better to say the truth about our age than give lies because a hypothetical example of someone who is an adult but is assessed as a child then mixing with children in a classroom will be a disaster. When asylum seekers and other migrants work with officials regarding age, it is not a bad thing.