Racism fears rise as jobless increase
ESRI 'concerned' as immigrants now 20 per cent of unemployed
Figures to be released this week are likely to show that the number of immigrants on the Live Register will exceed 80,000 for the first time or 20 per cent of the total unemployed, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The ESRI has now warned that the "vastly changed" economic situation may impact on the attitude of Irish nationals to immigrants, giving rise to fears that they may be subjected to racist abuse such as that experienced by the Romanian community in the North last week.
"This is a concern", according to Alan Barrett of the ESRI, one of Europe's leading research centres in social sciences.
The number of immigrants, or non-Irish nationals, on the Live Register has grown rapidly in the last two years, from just over 20,000 (13 per cent) two years ago to now over 80,000 (20 per cent).
Immigrants, who had predominately taken up employment in the construction, industrial and hospitality sectors, are suffering a higher rate of job losses relative to the native population.
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There was a particular acceleration in the unemployment rate among immigrants for much of last year, especially among those from the eastern EU accession states, such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
A significant proportion who have lost their jobs are remaining here, according to new research. Mr Barrett says this could be explained by "market conditions abroad", but he has also said that "welfare entitlements" here may also be playing a role.
"The vastly changed situation in the economy may impact on attitudes to immigrants and this is a concern," Mr Barrett said recently in a policy conference on the labour market in recession.
The total social welfare budget is over €20bn every year. The Government will later this year set about trying to make further savings in expenditure. There has been speculation that welfare payments to the unemployed may be cut in the next Budget, possibly by up to 10 per cent.
There are concerns in Government circles that were such cuts to be imposed it might lead to a backlash against the immigrant community which makes up such a sizeable proportion of the growing numbers unemployed. Even in Celtic Tiger Ireland, the ESRI found that non-Irish nationals were three times more likely to experience discrimination while looking for work, while black people were seven times more likely.
In the dramatically changed economic situation, fears in political circles that immigrants may be subjected to yet more serious discrimination, or even racism, are now being discussed by policy makers. Those fears are grounded in authoritative research referred to recently by the ESRI.
Declaring his intention to "put the issue on the agenda", Mr Barrett told a policy conference on April 30 last that there was a "link" between what he said were "labour market outcomes for immigrants" and the "attitudes of natives".
He cited, as evidence of this, a study published in 2000 by the Swedish Economic Policy Review which looked at differences across 11 countries, including Ireland, in attitudes to immigrants.
The Central Statistics Office will on Thursday publish new figures which are expected to show another increase in unemployment to over the 400,000 mark.
Last month official figures showed that there are now 396,871 unemployed, of which 79,077 were non-Irish nationals. A breakdown of the numbers showed that 46,640 unemployed were from 10 of the EU accession states, up from 5,506 in just two years; 17,315 were from the UK; and 4,389 were from other EU states.
On May 1, 2004, 10 countries joined the European Union. Only three countries, Ireland, the UK and Sweden, opened their labour markets to people from these accession states.
A year later immigration reached a record high of 53,000 here, of which 40 per cent came from the accession states, the majority from Poland, although there were also large numbers of Lithuanians and Latvians.
An anti-racism rally was held in Belfast yesterday afternoon following a series of attacks on a number of Romanian families in the south of the city.
More than 100 Romanian people had to leave their homes last Tuesday night and are being provided with temporary accommodation by the city authorities.
Organisers of the protest rally said that they hoped it would be the first in a series of demonstrations to highlight public opposition to the recent attacks on migrants in Northern Ireland.
The Anti-Racism Network said there was widespread anger about the intimidation of Romanian people and it has called for a co-ordinated response to the issue.