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".
It added that the full list of successful groups for 2018-19 would be published when all letters of offer have been issued and returned.
But BBC News NI has learned that some of the groups offered funding for this year include the Shankill Parish Caring Association, British Red Cross, YMCA North Down, Whiterock Children's Centre and the Cathedral Quarter Trust's culture night project.
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."
'No-one to speak up'
The MEDF was set up in 2001 under the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), since renamed as the Executive Office (TEO).
Its budget for 2018-19 was £1.1m. It said it received 77 applications from a range of organisations and that 35 were successful.
In guidance notes for groups hoping to apply to the fund, it says "funding is not reserved exclusively to 'minority ethnic organisations'", adding that "integration is a two-way procedure and the fund will reflect that".
Seven groups submitted appeals to the MEDF hoping to overturn the initial decision regarding their funding, but none were successful.
Mr Kouame said it was unfair for organisations like his to have to compete with local community organisations and larger charities, which are not set up specifically to support minority and ethnic communities.
"We know the situation in Northern Ireland," he said.
"We know orange and green is there, but if you allocate a fund for BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) groups the money should be distributed between BAME groups.
"We're not afraid of competition, but I don't think the distribution of the money is fair.
"We have to fight with local groups because they do some minority work, it doesn't make sense to me."
Alliance politician Anna Lo said the scheme's funding process was not transparent enough.
"I don't believe this fund has been running very well," said the former assembly member.
"The aim of the fund was to enable ethnic minorities to have representation and to develop, but those small organisations are going to go to the ground," she said.
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.
"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.
"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.