Access to health and social care services is difficult for migrants for a number of reasons including the existence of language barriers, uncertainty about entitlement to services and how to access them, fear of discrimination and of cultural needs not being met. Women and children have particular health needs, for example for immunisation and maternity care and they may miss out on these if they are unable to access services for all the reasons given above. Mental health problems and dependence on drugs, alcohol or other substances are also a problem for some groups, sometimes exacerbated by the experience of migration. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are more common in some migrant groups and many migrants experience social issues, such as housing and poverty.
This report is the first publication of the Belfast Health Development Unit, established jointly in March 2010 by Belfast City Council, Public Health Agency and Belfast Trust, to facilitate partnership working in Belfast to tackle inequalities in health. One of the strategic priorities for the Unit is to develop an integrated city-wide approach to delivering effective and sustainable health and well-being outcomes for black and minority ethnic groups.
At the launch I said in my best Mandarin,
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen.
Firstly I would like to thank the Belfast Health Development Unit for inviting me here today to the launch of the report on Migrant Health and Wellbeing in Belfast.I am delighted to be here, in the Chinese Welfare Association. This is a fantastic space and resource, one which I hear is not only a focal point for the Chinese community but also an important place for promoting engagement and good relations between all communities.
I am also delighted to see the launch of this report. I would like to congratulate all of the members of the local partnership on migrant health, and in particular Jillian Johnston, for their work which has entailed extensive engagement with migrants, representatives of migrants associations, healthcare professionals, local politicians and other involved stakeholders to map migrant health need and to develop and exchange best practices and measures to address migrant health inequalities at local national, regional and European level with our partners in the European Commission’s Healthy & Wealthy Together, project, who also helped fund the work.
As we all know Belfast is a changing City, one that has moved from being a global exporter of so many of our young and old to various parts of the world to a City which has become home to many new communities.I am amazed that so many people have chosen to make their lives or part of their life here in Belfast, the fact that people are choosing to do so is an important statement of the journey Belfast has made within the past number of years.We are no strangers to the challenges of emigration and the difficulties of uprooting to a new country and a new culture. Settling into a new place, a strange place, with a different language, customs, food, and law is far from easy. Thousands of people from here were forced to seek a new life elsewhere and this journey had often been met with prejudice, rejection and hostility. We of all people should be sensitive to those coming here from other countries.
The diversity that new communities bring offers the City tremendous opportunities to be a centre of innovation and prosperity. It brings cultural richness, skills and knowledge, new ideas and new economic connections with the world.We all know the increase in migration, over the last number of years has contributed immensely to Belfast’s social and economic development. However the contribution of migrant communities is more than just that of labour.What is also clear is that many of the new communities to Belfast are not simply temporary residents but rather people with a stake in the future of our City. This places a very direct responsibility on us all to meet the opportunities and challenges of this new development and to cater for the wider health and social needs of these new communities.
We must not simply focus on the economic potential of people who have migrated to this City and ignore their everyday needs, hopes and aspirations. We must develop family friendly practice and policies so that communities who move to our City are encouraged to stay, able to access our services and able to put down roots.Just this month our Good Relations Unit, within the Council, produced a guide of the support services available to people that have migrated to Belfast. Having looked at this guide I was amazed at the innovative projects operating within the City, supporting the needs of migrant communities and often doing so on a shoe string budget. These projects need to be supported and sustained.
We as a Council and as a City need to ensure that the barriers to social inclusion and access to services and information are removed and that the diversity of backgrounds, faiths and cultures are appreciated, protected and positively valued. We also need to ensure that all communities have equal access to and outcome from life opportunities within the City.This report comprehensively maps the health needs of people who have migrated to our city and the health inequalities that people from a migrant background encounter in Belfast. These include difficulties in accessing services due to confusion as to entitlement to and availability of services and support; language barriers and inexperience/uncertainty of healthcare providers.
One of the key recommendations made in the report is the need for more information sharing, capacity building and partnerships between agencies and professionals working on migrant health. The Belfast Health Development Unit, which brings together the Public Health Agency, Belfast City Council and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in a single health partnership for the City, is ideally placed to take this work forward, given its aims of improving health and reducing health inequalities. I applaud the Unit for identifying racial equality in health as a priority – and for this report, which is an important first step in dismantling barriers to health.