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Northern Ireland could take 2,000 refugees as scale of crisis hits home

By Liam Clarke

Northern Ireland could take in as many as 2,000 Syrian refugees as the humanitarian crisis worsens, politicians have suggested.

Aid campaigners have said preparations must begin now for an influx of refugees in order to avoid chaos.

Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP MP for Lagan Valley, is one of the many politicians supporting the move and hasn't ruled out taking a family in himself if necessary.

"Let's look at what is available. I follow the line which my faith teaches that we should show good hospitality," he said.

Mr Donaldson gave no commitment on numbers but said that a figure of 2,000 tweeted by Martin McGuinness was worth considering.

He pointed out that David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, recently called for the UK to take 25,000 people within six months.

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Since Northern Ireland is 2.9% of the UK population that would make our proportionate share 725. We have to be part of a UK-wide effort because Stormont has no powers to grant asylum or nationality.

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to take "thousands" more migrants but hasn't yet been specific.

He also announced a further £100m in humanitarian aid for those in camps in Syria, Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon and said he would like to take refugees directly from the camps rather than from those already in Europe. Churches are preparing to play their part. The Rt Rev Dr Ian McNie, the Presbyterian Moderator, is going to raise it at a meeting of the leaders of the main Christian denominations next week.

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"As Christians called to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbour, we need to open our arms to those who come to our shores," he said.

Fr Eddie McGee, a Catholic Church spokesman, said: "We will want to explore what we can do within the broader society and within the local community to assist migrants. We will also want to examine what help can be given in the countries that people are fleeing from to address the social and political issues leading to this situation."

Some clergy are already making a start. The Rev Chris Hudson, a former Oxfam chairman, is one example. He is minister of All Souls Non Subscribing Presbyterian Church and wants clergy to try and reach a concerted approach.

"This is the greatest humanitarian disaster since the Second World War. At All Souls we support three Zimbabwean asylum seekers; will find premises and resources to house a Syrian family. We will provide clothing, furniture, accommodation and a modest income to get them started. If we can't respond in this way we may shut up about being Christians," he said.

He stressed the need from planning. "We need storage for furniture and other items so that it will be ready when needed. We can't bring people in to beg on the streets."

Asked if people would be reluctant to come here given our troubled record, he laughed. "They won't have heard of Northern Ireland, they just want to go somewhere they can live and work," he said.

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