Group calls for update to Northern Ireland travel to Republic for foreign nationals

For some people living in Northern Ireland crossing the border into the Republic is not as free and easy as it is for most of the population.

Ken Odumukwu took a walk with UTV to the border between Derry and Donegal.

Only different coloured road markings indicate where Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland meet.

An open border. But not for Ken as he is forced to end his journey on the Northern Irish side, and can't put a foot into Donegal.

That's because he doesn’t have a visa to enter the Republic.

Only British and Irish citizens can cross the border freely.

Ken is Nigerian. The care worker lives less than two miles away in Derry with his wife and their two children. For him, the travel restrictions feel painful.

Ken Odumukwu

He said: “The fact that I can’t just travel the island makes me feel bad. My children can’t go to school events across the border. A friend invited us to the beach in Donegal. We couldn’t go.” Aynaz Zarif and her husband came from Iran to set up home in Derry five years ago. She’s applied to the Irish authorities for three visas just to work and attend meetings across the border. But it is a lengthy and costly process.

Foreign nationals living in the Republic also have to apply for a visa to cross into Northern Ireland.

Aynaz said it's discrimination.

She added: “It just feels as if I am excluded and not part of society, no matter how much you try you can’t call this place home because people see you as others.”

Free movement over the border is permitted under a set of arrangements known as the Common Travel Area. It was established in 1922 following partition.

That's out of date according to Lilian Seenoi Barr, director of the North West Migrants Forum.

She said: “Society has evolved, it is more multicultural. So many people have come to make their lives here. To build that sense of belonging, policies also need to evolve.”

The North West Migrants Forum are demanding a review of the Common Travel Area.

They want the same right extended to every permanent resident living in Northern Ireland or the Republic.

It’s a campaign they take to a town hall meeting in Dublin next week.

Members of the Migrants Forum living in Northern Ireland have applied for visas to be able to attend.

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