Concerns over Stormont minority ethnic fund money

Questions have been raised about whether a Stormont scheme set up to aid ethnic minority communities is serving its purpose.

Several groups that applied to the Minority Ethnic Development Fund (MEDF) have been told they have lost some funding this year.

Former MLA Anna Lo said the application process needed to be more transparent.

The executive office said funding “is not reserved exclusively to minority ethnic organisations”

The Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Nicras) has, for several years, been receiving money from the fund, which is managed under the executive office’s racial equality strategy, but the amount it gets has fallen from £75,000 to £45,000 for 2018-19.

It appealed against the decision, but in June received a letter saying the appeal had been unsuccessful.

Nicras chairman Justin Kouame said his organisation would struggle to cope as money would now be tight.

“We had £75,000 for the last two years and we worked according to this,” he told BBC News NI.

“But losing this money, with nothing to let us know we were going to lose this money – we’re really panicking, we don’t know what’s going to happen.

“We used to have two staff, but it’s now down to one. We can’t cover maintenance, insurance, internet.

“When you take salary and rent we have nothing left.”

The Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Nicras) has, for several years, been receiving money from the fund, which is managed under the executive office’s racial equality strategy, but the amount it gets has fallen from £75,000 to £45,000 for 2018-19.

It appealed against the decision, but in June received a letter saying the appeal had been unsuccessful.

Nicras chairman Justin Kouame said his organisation would struggle to cope as money would now be tight.

“We had £75,000 for the last two years and we worked according to this,” he told BBC News NI.

“But losing this money, with nothing to let us know we were going to lose this money – we’re really panicking, we don’t know what’s going to happen.

“We used to have two staff, but it’s now down to one. We can’t cover maintenance, insurance, internet.

“When you take salary and rent we have nothing left.”

Ms Lo said she felt the way the scheme had been set up was flawed because it allocates funding on a year-to-year basis, and that it should have been giving groups core funding for three years at a time, so that they could plan ahead and try to develop.

“The fund was meant to allow minority communities to be their own voice and to feel a sense of belonging; that they’re included, valued and their voice is counted,” she added.

‘Nicras will vanish’

“But if you have those organisations going to the wall, there is going to be no-one to speak up for them.”

For now, Justin Kouame is speaking out, but he said he did not know how much longer his organisation would survive.

“Every year minority groups are vanishing, they’re closing down – the fund isn’t really meeting its purpose,” he said.

“I’m sure in another two or three years, Nicras will vanish.”

The Executive Office said the MEDF remains one of its “flagship funding streams” and supported a wide range of services and projects, from “the annual Mela, refugees and asylum seekers, provision of English language classes and providing advocacy workers to some of the most vulnerable people in our society”.

It added that a number of evaluations of the fund had been carried out since it was set up, and that a further review is scheduled to take place during this financial year.

Written By: Jayne McCormack

First Published 16.07.18: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-politics-44655964

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