Job insecurity and prejudice forcing Africans to leave Northern Ireland

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Recent reports in the media have indicated that there are a growing number of African people returning to their motherland from Europe because of high levels of job insecurity. Common convention especially within some right-wing migration discourses; often describe the African bit of the South-North travel as an economic experience inspired by a one-way ticket syndrome.

This one-way ticket theory is quite tactless given individual experiences that make people decide to take a voyage to a country far up North. So the story of Northern Ireland is no different. The standard Afro-Irish encounter goes like this; so what brings you to such a cold rainy place as Northern Ireland?

Why do you have to leave your warm climate in Africa to come to this place that is characterised by long periods of wetness? It may sound simplistic but it is common knowledge that the locals who ask this question usually are very aware of the push and pull factors of migration. If looking for greener economic pastures was one of the key pull factors that brought a growing number of black people to Northern Ireland, it has now become a push dynamic.

Many immigrants from Africa, like their economic migrant comrades from Eastern Europe have suddenly begun to look for other alternatives of relocation from the North and South of Ireland. It is really as a result of lesser job prospects in the employment markets.

Official statistics from the Labour Force Survey show that in February 2011, Northern Ireland had the largest unemployment rate in the UK. Among those most seriously affected by this continuing economic problem are Africans who are largely present in the service industry, which is declining in growth.

Many of them are well educated with a common grievance about their qualifications not being recognized by potential employers in the Northern Ireland market. Many have opted to move to other parts of the UK while others have opted for a one-way ticket back to their country of birth.

It is still difficult to assess the profile of African migration to Northern Ireland especially the specific look at whether or not some came from the UK or directly from Africa. What is now very clear is that if the economy continues to show flux, then more will find it impossible to sustain a decent livelihood in this otherwise, post-intractable conflict society.

It was indeed the difficulties of the old Northern Ireland conflict that prevented people from Africa either deciding to stay on or even come to live and work in this beautiful land. Ironically after the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement that brought a sense of peace dispensation, many Africans either already in the UK Diaspora or coming anew from Africa, begun to take advantage of it and even saw it as their future place of permanent residence.

Many had also to endure different forms of prejudice when of course, some right wing practitioners in job markets, used their platforms to offer employment in what could be described as hierarchical.

Many Africans have spoken of recruitment bias both in public and private institutions. There is also little chance for them to operate profitable businesses in a somewhat inward looking consumer environment.

This is common when people exhibit their involuntary prejudices which make it difficult for them to transcend notions of the ethnic other. It can be a direct or even involuntary prejudice but the total sum of it is really, how it affects the reality of excluding black people from competing in the job markets.

Part of the problem is the idea that institutions and to some extent individuals in recruitment markets are in denial that migrant populations are now facing more rejections than ever before not just because of the poor economic environment but also as a result of the legacy of the conflict.

The Northern Ireland executive arm of government should reflect on this current problem that is making many black employees think twice about settling in a an uncertain economy. The lack of business opportunities will severely affect the more mercantile types from settling.

But there is hope that structural changes will boost economic performance, expansion of investment, other areas like the Derry City of Culture 2013 projects, the regeneration plans and so on will be an economic testament that the future is still looking bright for those who have decided to stay.

If this sounds too good to be true, then see how many migrants are really intending to defy the odds and stay.

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Elly Odhiambo

About Elly Odhiambo

Elly is a Northern Ireland-based writer and researcher with extensive international experience. His portfolio includes political commentaries in the Londonderry Sentinel and Kenyan newspapers such as The Daily Nation and East African Standard.

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