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Immigration - are we really the land of one hundred thousand welcomes?

5 February, 2008

Sinn Féin Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson Martina Anderson MLA speaking in the Assembly today has said that the Irish experience of immigration should make us more aware of the problems and difficulties faced by immigrants living here.

Ms Anderson said:

"The issue of migrant workers and the exploitation they endure is nothing new. Women and men have been leaving their homelands in search of work ever since payment in return for labour was introduced.

"Nowhere is that more true than in Ireland. For generations, oppression, starvation and poverty forced our people to distant lands in order to survive. And that Irish diaspora faced the onslaught of prejudice, racism, exploitation and discrimination which many migrant workers continue to face the world over.

"Indeed, to this day the Irish community in Britain still face an enduring legacy of hardship because of that discrimination. The suicide rate in Britain is highest among the Irish community, life expectancy is the lowest and this community also faces high levels of mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse.

"Nevertheless, despite the hardships they faced, the global Irish diaspora is perhaps the best example of how migrants can assimilate into the host country and make a positive contribution to their new home. The Irish migrants became nation builders, statesmen, military heroes, renowned artists and celebrated inventors.

"I believe that if any country should be welcoming migrants with open arms it is Ireland. Because we know better than most, the hardships which force someone to leave their native land and we know the contribution they can make to their new home.

"But are we really the land of one hundred thousand welcomes?

"How can we be when a Polish woman loses her legs after almost freezing to death on a Coleraine street? How can we be when migrant workers are attacked in their home in Derry's Waterside by sectarian thugs? How can we be when human traffickers are smuggling vulnerable women and children into this country and forcing them into a life of prostitution? How can we be when unscrupulous employers exploit migrant workers and refuse to give them the same entitlements as indigenous employees?

"Migrant workers should be afforded the same rights and entitlements as anyone else and everything possible must be done to oppose the evils of human trafficking.

"We should reflect on the experience of our forefathers and the suffering and exploitation they endured in far off lands. We should remember that suffering and we should ensure that, though our actions, no-one coming to this country should ever have to endure a similar experience." ENDS

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