Dampness, rats and racist abuse - Syrian refugees complain of poor conditions in west Belfast

‘People throw eggs and rubbish at the windows and doors. They empty my bins,’ says woman

Syrian refugee families living in west Belfast have been subjected to racist attacks and are living in poor housing conditions, according to a report by a Belfast human rights group.

Six families who were housed in west Belfast under the British government’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme complained of problems such as chronic dampness, rodent infestation, failure to provide basic health and safety protections, and racist abuse and attacks.

The report, "We Came Here for Sanctuary" was carried out by the Participation and Practice of Human Rights Project. One of its organisers, Elfie Seymour, who has worked with the families, said immediate action needed to be taken to ensure that the families "do not continue to suffer".

The families are part of a group of 248 families comprising 1,010 people who after fleeing the conflict in Syria were rehoused in Northern Ireland over the past year and a half.

A mother of one of the families reported “frequent racist attacks” in her area of west Belfast. “Every time we leave the house everyone stares at us - some people in the neighbourhood insult and beat my children and shout racist remarks about them,” she said.

“They are too scared to leave the house. One of the neighbours spat in my face. Sometimes at 2am or 3am people bang on my door and shout,” she added.

“People from the neighbourhood throw things at my house. This information has been told to the housing [authorities] many times. In five months nothing has been done,” said the woman.

A single mother also reported suffering from regular attacks. “Every time my nine-year-old son leaves the house people beat him or insult him and say provoking things to humiliate him and make him cry,” she said.

“People throw eggs and rubbish at the windows and doors. Every time I put recycling bins out people empty them at my door. People throw glass bottles through my skylight,” she added.

There were also a number of complaints of poor housing conditions. One father said from the day he arrived in west Belfast he “noticed rising dampness in all of the rooms in the house”.

He added, “My daughter was born prematurely at seven months and has serious ongoing health issues - especially with her breathing and chest. When my daughter was born she had a haemorrhage in the lungs. She takes an inhaler daily. The doctor has stated that she cannot continue to live in these conditions.”

Ahmed, accompanied by his daughter Jana, complained that his house was damp and suffered from mould. He said there also was rat infestation and frequent gas leaks.

A spokesman for the Housing Executive said that the majority of the 248 families housed under the scheme had no issues with their accommodation.

“All temporary accommodation is carefully sourced and inspected by the Housing Executive before any placement is made,” he said.

“Following the placement periodic inspections are carried out - if there is any disrepair this is reported in the first instance to the private landlord.

“We are aware these issues have been reported to the landlord and we are sure they will be addressed.”