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MOD could open Ballykinler Army base to Syrian refugees

By Deborah McAleese

Published 02/10/2015

The barracks at Ballykinler
The barracks at Ballykinler
Syrian refugees crossing the Hungary-Croatia border

The Ministry of Defence is to consider opening Ballykinler Army base in Co Down to Syrian refugees as the humanitarian crisis worsens.

Councillors in the area have made a formal request to the MoD that the former military camp is made available to house refugee families.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has said that the district could house at least 100 refugee families, with many being accommodated in the barracks.

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, but said they would come from camps in the region, not from among those who have already journeyed to Europe.

Last month Stormont politicians suggested that Northern Ireland could take in as many as 2,000.

A formal request from the council to allow Ballykinler to be used by refugee families has been forwarded to the MoD in London and is currently under consideration.

Last year the barracks was left without its own regiment for the first time since the Napoleonic Wars when soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Rifles moved out for their new home at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn.

Major renovation was carried out at Ballykinler in 2008, extending the accommodation to 290 married quarters. The former camp, considered one of the best equipped in the UK, remains open as a police and Army training facility.

Councillors want their request dealt with as a matter of urgency.

"There is a humanitarian crisis and we are offering a solution that would see many of these refugees being safely housed," said Sinn Fein's Willie Clarke.

"Unfortunately, it seems to be a long, drawn-out process."

He added: "There is a lot of purpose-built accommodation there that is just sitting idle. It is still in good order, so why should we not put up some of these refugee families?

"It would only be on a temporary basis, as we would like to eventually see them integrated into the community.

"We think we could safely take at least 100 families into the district."

SDLP councillor Colin McGrath said: "I would welcome any move, idea or initiative to provide help and assistance for the refugees.

"It is very important that we do our bit to help them."

The district council has also agreed to set up a working group to investigate ways of dealing with the crisis.

A request has been made to the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister to convene a task force outside the Executive involving local councils, voluntary and charity organisations and faith groups to facilitate a fitting response.

An estimated 11m Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the bloody civil war in March 2011, taking refuge in neighbouring countries or within Syria itself.

The numbers of migrants heading to Europe are growing daily and weekly.

More than 500,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach the Continent this year alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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