“Don’t see migrant community as ‘them and us’”: High Sheriff of Belfast
by Allan LEONARD
6 March 2015
At a launch event for a photography exhibition at Belfast City Hall, the High Sheriff of Belfast, Councillor Gareth McKee, told the audience not to see the migrant community in Northern Ireland with a ‘them and us’ attitude, but instead “identify with migrants on a more personal level as one human being to another”.
All photos (c) Laurence GIBSON
“We can all help to make difference to our city, by embracing diversity and appreciating the benefits of a rich, multi-cultural society,” said the High Sheriff.
The exhibition, which has been previously shown at the Linen Hall Library, Parliament Buildings, Skainos Centre and other local community venues, is part of the Belonging Project, which seeks to inform visitors with personal accounts of the migrant experience.
On display are full-length images of persons from Iran, Romania, and Poland, for example.
In each, the migrant is holding or wearing an item of significance to them.
Using a smartphone app, you can scan a square code on the portrait description, to reveal a website link that has that person’s audio description of their reason for coming to Northern Ireland.
As the photographer, Laurence Gibson, who grew up in Belfast and continues to spend much time here, explained:
“I believe the portraits provide increased understanding of these individual persons moving into the country, and that the public will realise that these people are adding to our culture, not taking away.”
Also speaking at the event was Jolena Fleet, who announced the expansion of her organisation — the Belfast Migrant Centre will now operate as Migrant Centre Northern Ireland:
“Our overall aim is to taclke racism and eliminate barriers against new and settled migrant communities in Northern Ireland, and I’m pleased that our centre’s capacities have increased.”
Ms Fleet explained how Migrant Centre Northern Ireland works to eliminate language barriers, provide outreach services and respond to the needs of victims of racial harassment.
Migrant Centre Northern Ireland is the charity partner of the Belonging Project, which is further supported by the Community Relations Council, Belfast City Council, and Libraries NI.
The exhibition at the east entrance of Belfast City Hall runs through 31st March.
A video produced by Nick Worpole describes the Belonging Project in more detail: