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500 seeking asylum in Northern Ireland

Record number awaiting a decision on their future from the Home Office

By Chris McCullough

Published 03/10/2015

Where Northern Ireland’s 500 asylum seekers would come from
Where Northern Ireland’s 500 asylum seekers would come from

A record number of asylum seekers from all around the world are awaiting decisions on their futures in Northern Ireland.

There are 497 people awaiting their fate which ultimately will be decided by the Home Office.

Stormont politicians have recently voiced their concerns over the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking new lives in the European Union caught up in the huge international crisis.

But while politicians have offered to help those displaced by conflict in countries like Syria, new research by Detail Data (a joint project between investigative news website The Detail and the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action) has revealed serious concerns around how asylum seekers are catered for.

Campaigners have highlighted Stormont's failure to introduce relevant legislation, including a long-awaited Racial Equality Strategy and a Refugee Integration Strategy, while asylum seekers already based in Belfast have raised concerns over the handling of their cases.

However, the Northern Ireland administration said the delayed legislation was at an advanced stage, while officials had started "significant preparatory work" related to the refugee crisis.

All the major Stormont parties have supported efforts to house Syrian refugees, with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness expressing hopes that 2,000 refugees could be placed here.

But Justin Kouame, chair of the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, said: "In reality they do not have the structures to look after 2,000 [Syrian refugees] and there are already asylum seekers here struggling."

He said better support systems were required to overcome problems including language barriers, poor housing provision and the availability of specialist legal advice.

Detail Data has prepared a report on immigration statistics which includes quarterly figures on asylum, detention and removals. It shows that between April and June this year, 497 people from 37 countries were seeking asylum in Northern Ireland, including 154 applications from China and 14 from war-ravaged Syria.

All the applicants, except one, are living in houses, flats, hostels or B&Bs in Belfast, with one living in north Down. Accommodation is provided on a "no choice" basis under the long-standing dispersal policy.

The statistics show only those asylum seekers who are judged to be 'destitute' and whose applications have not been finalised.

The destitution test is that they do not have adequate accommodation or money to meet living expenses for themselves and any dependants within 14 days.

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