Second group of Syrian refugees fly into Northern Ireland
First refugees who arrived in December have settled well into Belfast
Migrants and refugees arrive on the islan of Kos, Greece. A second group of Syrian refugees is being flown into Northern Ireland as part of the British government’s vulnerable persons’ relocation scheme. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Most of the group of 57 refugees will be based in the Derry area. They are aged from two years to the mid-50s and comprise 14 families of 37 adults and 20 children, 15 of them of school age.
A small number are disabled while some also carry burn and other injuries from the conflict in Syria, explained Ian Snowden of the North’s Department of Social Development which is coordinating the resettlement.
In December the first group of 51 refugees which comprised mostly Muslims but also some Christians were settled in the Belfast area. They included a 3-weeks-old baby. They had been based in camps in Jordan and Lebanon.
Mr Snowden said the first relocation had worked very well and that the refugees were settling into and being welcomed into local communities.
Mr Snowden, who is chairing the planning committee overseeing the resettlement, said he got an understanding of the relief felt by the refugees when in December someone pointed to the snow that was lying on the ground in Belfast.
“One of the fathers said that it also snowed in Beirut but that when it snowed in the camps people started to die while when it snowed in Belfast people don’t die,” he recalled.
The refugees are being settled as part of a commitment made last year by British prime minister David Cameron to relocate up to 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain and Northern Ireland.
According to the Department of Social Development the first group of families who arrived in December said they were appreciative of the support, advice and guidance they had received.
“The families continue to miss their homeland and way of life and sometimes they feel a little isolated. However, they say that from the outset they have felt secure, comfortable and welcomed in Belfast,” the department said in a briefing note.
“There have been no incidents of race hate attacks on any of the families. All of the families report that the local communities where they live have been very welcoming and supportive,” it added.
Mr Snowden said there had to be a big focus on teaching English because all the first arrivals had little or no knowledge of the language. Each family has been allocated a key worker who has helped the refugees in various ways such as using public transport, shops and leisure facilities and getting children organised for school.
He added that all families had been vetted both by the United Nations and the British Home Office and that it was properly established that none posed a security threat.
Under the scheme families will not be permitted to travel across the Border into the Republic unless they have special permission, which can be difficult and awkward to obtain.
The British Home Office is providing £11,120 per refugee to cover the first year of costs of settling the refugees. Northern Ireland is expected to take in more refugees as the relocation programme continues.