City welcome for Syrian refugees

13 refugee families will arrive in Londonderry next week.
13 refugee families will arrive in Londonderry next week.

Londonderry will welcome 13 Syrian refugee families to the city next week under the Government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.

The 57-strong group of refugees will arrive in Northern Ireland tomorrow (Thursday) and spend five days at a welcome centre in Belfast before transferring to the North West early next week.

They are being flown to Belfast International Airport from Turkey and are the second group of refugees to arrive in Northern Ireland. The first arrived from Lebanon in December and have been settled in the Belfast area.

The 13 families include 20 children, the youngest of whom is two years of age.

The 57-strong group also includes one family which is being housed in the Belfast area because of a requirement for wheelchair access.

The other 13 families are all being housed in the Cityside in Londonderry.

A spokesman for the Department of Regional Development said: “Accommodation was allocated purely on availability of housing.

“We were looking for houses where the families would not be grouped too closely together, but at the same time it was important that they retain contact and ideally would be placed within walking distance.”

Prime Minister David Cameron announced th VPR scheme last September, agreeing that the UK would accommodate up to 20,000 Syrian refugees during the lifetime of this Parliament.

Under the scheme displaced refugees from Syria, who come from camps principally in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, will be resettled all over the UK.

The families’ transition is being managed by the Red Cross, who are working to help assimilate them into a settled lifestyle as quickly as possible.

That will include enrolling the children in local schools, help with learning English and with employment.

One restriction the families face in the North West is that initially they will not be permitted to cross the border into the Irish Republic.

That’s because of their refugee status and work is ongoing with the Irish authorities to overcome issues with permits.

The families will become eligible to apply for full UK citizenship after five years in this country.

Ulster Unionist Assembly candidate Julia Kee said: “No-one who has seen the heart-breaking scenes from Syria, Turkey and Greece could fail to be moved.

“A tragedy has been unfolding in the Middle East for several years now and literally millions of people have been affected, with many forced to flee their homes in search of a place of safety.

“I welcome the fact that the UK Government has stepped in to play its part in providing some assistance and I particularly welcome the fact that Londonderry will host some of the families affected.

“Londonderry itself saw a great deal of conflict in years gone by. The fact that the city is now preparing to receive people fleeing violence overseas is a testament to how far we have come as a city and community. As we prepare to welcome the Syrian refugees, we must all recognise the importance of continuing the work building peace and stability which will benefit us all.”