THE North West Migrants Forum will be in Enniskillen this weekend highlighting the invisible border that exists for thousands of people on the island of Ireland.
The Common Travel Area allows British and Irish nationals to move freely, without checks, throughout the UK and Ireland – enabling them to live, work, vote and access certain health benefits without obstruction.
But such unfettered travel is not applied to everyone.
Under current arrangements non-UK and non-Irish nationals are not entitled to freedom of movement, despite many of them having lived in Britain or Ireland for years.
On Saturday members of the North West Migrants Forum will be in The Diamond, Enniskillen, handing out leaflets and informing members of the public of its Common Travel Area campaign.
Among those in attendance will be Aynaz Zarifmahmoudi, Community Liaison Officer with the North West Migrants Forum.
She has first-hand experience of the challenges non-UK and Irish nationals face.
“Having lived in this country for almost five years, I find it unfair that I need a visa every time I want to travel for a business meeting or a short hike over the border,” Ms Zarifmahmoudi said.
“No matter how much we try to feel at home here, this way we will always feel like strangers. I keep hearing about the Shared Island Programmes and wondering whether we are invisible.”
Lilian Seenoi Barr is Director of Programmes with the North West Migrants Forum.
She said that despite discussions around the border dominating the headlines recently, many British and Irish citizens are unaware of the hidden border until it affects them or a loved one.
“We are building momentum and growing support as more and more people are made aware of the injustice faced by residents across Ireland.”
One of the most serious examples of the real-life impact certain sections of society face is accessing health care. Where medical services are delivered on a cross-border basis – like the North West Cancer Centre at Altnagelvin – not having freedom of movement can have catastrophic consequences.
The Common Travel Area arrangements affect people in several categories, among them non-UK and non-Irish citizens married to UK or Irish nationals, those seeking international protection and international students.
Many of those impacted are permanent residents from developing countries such as Kenya, Sudan, Ukraine, Iran and Syria – a fact that has led to racial profiling, particularly on cross-border travel.
“People are shocked when they realise these discriminatory rules apply to their friends, neighbours and even family,” said Lilian Seenoi Barr.
“There is a border in Ireland and it is not invisible to the many visa residents, north and south, who have their lives and freedoms restricted by the Common Travel Area rules.
The most painful stories are those that separate families. The human right to a family life doesn’t seem to apply when visas are required. We need to change this.”
Vowing to keep up the fight on behalf of those being disenfranchised by the rules, Ms Seenoi Barr added, “We continue to campaign for the rights of residents from all backgrounds to move freely throughout the Common Travel Area.”
The North West Migrants Forum will be in Enniskillen between 11am and 2pm on Saturday.
If you can’t make it, you can still sign their Common Travel Area petition at Common Travel Area Petition – North West Migrants Forum – North West Migrants Forum (nwmf.org.uk)