It’s not an “invisible border” for everyone

Credit: Des Colhoun / Bridge across the River Foyle at Lifford / CC BY-SA 2.0.

A protest took place at Lifford Bridge on Saturday to draw attention to discrimination within the Common Travel Area (CTA).

The “No Racist Border” protest, organised by the North West Migrants Forum, marked UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Under the CTA, citizens of Ireland and the United Kingdom have the right to live, travel, work and study in either country, including accessing social benefits, healthcare, social housing supports, and the right to vote in certain elections. Those with Irish, British, or EU citizenship do not currently need a passport to cross the border.

The CTA does not extend to asylum seekers, refugees with ‘Leave to Remain’ or ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’, or those from non-EU countries with permanent residence in either jurisdiction.

Speakers explained the everyday difficulties of living by an “invisible” border but not being able to let their children visit friends, attend educational events, or even go to the beach on a sunny day.

Difficulties also arise where public services are provided on an all-island basis. The only paediatric cardiology unit on the island is in Dublin. This means a child in Northern Ireland who is not covered by the CTA would need an visa, which can be both expensive and subject to delays.

Others spoke of having permission to cross freely but being singled out for checks at the border:

“What does it mean when I cross the border? What does it mean when I’m doing nothing wrong? It means that I still feel criminalised. If I’m sitting on the bus going from Derry to Dublin the Gardaí will, without any reason, board the bus at the border and then walk along and look at you. They look at you not as if you’re human; they look at you because they think you’re not Irish.

“And why do they think I’m not Irish? They think I’m not Irish just because of the colour of my skin. It’s purely down to racism. It’s racial profiling and it’s racist.”

The volunteer group End Deportations Belfast has set up an online portal to record instances of racism in the CTA, in particular on cross-border buses and trains.

“What we have learnt is that these are discriminatory checks, with black and brown people visibly targeted for scrutiny when white people aren’t approached, their IDs are barely looked at, or they’re jovially told that they’re ‘grand’ by the Gardaí. The testimonies tell us that skin colour is the main factor for Garda checks,” said a spokesperson for the group.

“The testimonies have also told us that when white passengers are unable to provide ID or provide a visa, for example if they’re from North America, they are never challenged. Their journey can continue.”