First Syrian refugees could arrive in Northern Ireland by December
The first Syrian refugees could arrive in Northern Ireland by December, the Deputy First Minister has revealed.
Martin McGuinness said the region was committed to helping resolve the global humanitarian crisis and wanted to "extend the hand of friendship" to those who were suffering.
An initial group of between 50 and 100 displaced people will be accommodated with others arriving in phases.
Mr McGuinness said: "We propose that we should welcome between 50 and 100 refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme with the expectation that further groups would arrive on a phased basis.
"Beginning with a modest number initially will assist learning and identification, indeed resolution of difficulties."
During Question Time at the devolved Stormont Assembly, Mr McGuinness said he had been "comforted and pleased" at the level of cross party support for the move.
He added: "We believe this proposal would clearly demonstrate that we have the capacity and maturity as a society to react positively to a humanitarian crisis and extend the hand of friendship to those who are suffering. In doing so, we want to send a very powerful message about our support for Syrian refugees and our commitment to assisting with this global issue."
The UK Government is expected to meet the first-year costs for accommodation and orientation support which could reach £6 million over three years.
A contribution will also be made towards education expenses, Mr McGuinness said at the Assembly.
However, the Deputy First Minister said his department was seeking clarification on the payment of health and social care bills.
He added: "We need to consider as an Executive how these costs could be met."
Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK could take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years while i n Dublin, the government has also announced plans to accept 4,000 people fleeing conflict.
Mr McGuinness, who has previously said Northern Ireland could help up to 2,000 refugees, also called for a new integration strategy to improve the bureaucratic difficulties.
"We will continue to work with NGOs and stakeholders to understand the experience of refugees and asylum seekers and provide our support throughout."
Last month more than 1,000 people attended a "refugees welcome" rally at Belfast City Hall organised by Amnesty International and the trade unions.
Amnesty's programme director for Northern Ireland Patrick Corrigan said: " The refugee situation is the greatest humanitarian crisis which Europe has faced since the end of the Second World War - it is right that Northern Ireland should be part of the solution.
"The people of Northern Ireland have already demonstrated their willingness to respond to the crisis through donations of money and emergency supplies. That generosity of spirit must now be matched by Government in a joined-up response which provides the housing and other needs of refugee families."