Former refugee, now settled citizen of Londonderry, Lilian Seenoi, says she realises how daunting it may seem for Syrian families in the process of rebuilding their lives in a strange new environment in the North West.
The Kenyan, who works with the NW Migrants Forum, will be delivering a new Community and Refugee Encounter Project in partnership with the North West Islamic Association on behalf of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
She said: “The families have all signed up to the programmes designed to assist them rebuild their life here and we are looking forward to help them integrate.
“We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the contributing funders and the people of this city for their generous support to the new comers and for welcoming the families.
“As a refugee myself I know how daunting the process of rebuilding your life in a new environment can be, but the preparation now in place and the commitment of the Civic Action group to welcoming the Syrian refugees in this council area will have a positive impact for the rest of their lives.
“I believe this is a great model of best practice that can be adopted by all councils and especially those who will be receiving more families in the next few months.
“We also want to recognize the team at the Department for Communities for working tirelessly through all the procedures, with several contributing government departments and in particular OFMDFM and Derry City and Strabane District Council for supporting the North West Migrants Forum throughout the years.
“The support we receive plays a key role in assisting refugees and people of minority ethnic backgrounds integrate well into the community and achieve that sense of belonging.”
The programme will assist the families who arrived in the city at the beginning of the month to integrate successfully into the local community.
Mayor Elisha McCallion said: “I’m delighted that the refugee families have received such a warm welcome locally since their arrival, and have found a place of safety here in our city. I’ve met with them personally on a number of occasions and they have been truly overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity expressed by the people of the district.
“Following on from the preparations made for their arrival by the Civic Action for Refugees Forum, the launch of the Community and Refugee Encounter Project is the next step in offering ongoing support and advice to the families as they integrate into the community.
“We have to remember that these families face the daunting task of learning about a new culture, and fitting into a new society without the support of friends and family. They have already been through a traumatic ordeal in leaving their homes and will need some assistance in coming to terms with their new life.”
Council Good Relations Officer Sue Divin said the project will have many practical benefits.
“This process is a learning curve for many local organisations who are considering how to work with refugee families or people who do not speak English - something which has been a key part of Equality laws in Northern Ireland but which is still new to many organisations. The project aims to be a two way process bringing engagement between the local community and the families for everyone’s benefit.
“It will include opportunities for English language skills, getting to know their city and its services, socialising with the wider community and gradually gaining confidence and independence.”
At the weekend a number of the 47 refugees who have taken up residence here in the city, expressed their thanks to local people for their generosity at a special support rally here in the city.