By Anna Victoria Lynch
False and damaging rumours are all too regularly spread about migrant people. This is because we often don’t react well to difference and, in particular, it can be more difficult to understand people who have a different culture. The rumours can have negative immediate and long-term effects. They build barriers between migrant people and local people. They present obstacles to getting access to jobs and services. They can all too easily escalate into both individual and institutional racism. Something needs to be done about rumours, and Limerick has stepped up to the mark.
The City Council of Barcelona, back in 2010, invested in a pioneering new approach to dealing with rumours and addressing the damage they can cause. Its strategy involved creating an anti-rumour network of local organisations, training anti-rumour agents to provide fact-based responses to dominant rumours through their own networks, and public education campaigns to challenge rumours and provide alternative fact-based perspectives.
The idea has spread. Ten European cities are now participating in a Council of Europe initiative, ‘Communication for information’ (C4i). Limerick, no stranger to rumours about itself, is one of those cities. Doras Luimní, founded in 2000 to respond to the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers, has taken on and implemented the anti-rumour initiative in the city.
Migrant people comprise about 10% of Limerick’s population with 18,427 migrants resident in the city and county. The principal nationalities are Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Pakistani, Chinese, Nigerian and Indian. They come for many reasons including to set up businesses, to work, to enjoy a better quality of life and to seek safety and asylum. Most live freely in the city and county while some 400, including fifty children, are living in the four direct provision centres in the city and county. All add to the cultural diversity and richness of Limerick and the majority are contributing greatly to the city’s economy by working in local businesses or setting up their own businesses. However, there is still some negativity towards them from local people.
At the start of the C4i initiative in Limerick, Doras Luimní sent out a call to those in its network of local organisations to become part of a working group of “Anti-Rumour Agents” – a term used to describe people who are trained by the C4i team in how to combat rumours and to develop campaign strategies to counter rumours. The workshops provided a starting point from which to begin to collect the different kinds of rumours that Limerick people have about migrants.
The five top rumours that seemed to have a hold in Limerick related to social welfare, integration, asylum-seekers, the economy, and free-buggies-on-demand. Migrants are seen as abusing social-welfare benefits. This was particularly strong in relation to payments of children’s allowance benefit. Migrants were viewed as unwilling to integrate into Irish society. Asylum-seekers were understood to live in luxury. Migrants were viewed as not positively contributing to the Irish economy. Migrants were understood to be entitled to free buggies or push chairs for their children, on demand.
These rumours provided a basis from which to develop fact-based informational material to counter myths and misperceptions that can underpin such rumours. The next step was to design interesting and effective ways to engage Limerick people in the C4i campaign. Doras Luimní, working with the Anti-Rumour Agents, designed an Anti-Rumours training programme that could be run in schools and a variety of other organisations, a series of public events and some visual-communication activities.
Anti-Rumours training was provided in the University of Limerick, Mary Immaculate College, and Limerick Institute of Technology. All of these institutions have integrated this training into modules on their courses. The Limerick Youth Service ran the training with their youth groups and brought it to secondary schools. A national conference on improving interculturalism in church communities also made use of the training. The reach of the training was broad and varied. An anti-rumour booklet is being produced.
Limerick has an Integration Strategy and integration forms part of the agenda of the social inclusion officer in its Council. There is an Integration Working Group co-chaired by Doras Luimní. The Anti-Rumours work has helped Doras Luimní to make links with Council members and officials. This has led to a greater involvement for them with Doras Luimní and with issues of integration generally. For example, the City and County Council was involved in steering the Intercultural Cities conference held at the end of 2014. At this event, Mayor Kevin Sheahan signed an inspiring agreement for Limerick to become a European Intercultural City. •
Anna Victoria Lynch is Anti-Rumours intern with Doras Luimní