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Northern Ireland refugees facing destitution, says charity

By Michael McHugh and Donna Deeney

Published 07/09/2015

Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor
Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor

Some refugees in Northern Ireland are facing destitution and have problems in accessing benefits and other support, the British Red Cross has warned.

Applicants for asylum are not entitled to state benefits until their claim has been dealt with. Instead they are offered housing and a cash allowance.

In the last year the Red Cross has supported around 15 Syrian individuals and families in Belfast, as well as more than 300 people from other countries affected by war and conflict, particularly Somalia and Sudan.

Free English classes should be provided to help integrate newcomers and a long-term commitment is needed to fund their settlement, the aid agency added.

Refugee support manager Neil McKittrick said: "We've seen people with no shoes, no coat, nowhere to sleep, heavily pregnant women and those with small children."

This year, the Executive provided a Crisis Fund for vulnerable migrants and ensured that all asylum seekers have access to primary and secondary healthcare.

Mr McKittrick added: "We signpost and advise people, who struggle to understand the complicated asylum process, with limited or no English.

"We strongly argue that destitution should never be an outcome of the asylum system; however for a number of reasons, some people do find themselves completely destitute."

According to the Home Office, asylum seekers can ask for somewhere to live, a cash allowance worth £36.95 per person per week or both.

Mr McKittrick said: "We are able to help them for a limited period of time by providing a £10 weekly voucher for food.

"Occasionally, we are able to reunite a family separated by conflict. Not knowing the fate or whereabouts of family members is one of the most distressing aspects of their situation for many refugees and asylum seekers."

He called for a refugee integration strategy for Northern Ireland - it is the only UK region not to have one.

"For people arriving from any conflict zone, there needs to be a long-term commitment to funding their settlement and integration in our community so we can properly meet their needs. Those who have been granted refugee status should not have to cope with delays in the benefit system during their transition period and should never have to face destitution.

"It would also be practical for those who arrive as or become refugees to have access to free English classes to assist with their integration."

Meanwhile, Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor has said that political leaders "must put in place an adequate humanitarian response for those who have reached our European shores and borders".

He told a congregation at Mater Dei Church in Crumlin yesterday: "Our countries cannot handle this refugee and migrant crisis alone, in isolation from Europe. A common and shared European response, grounded in generosity by our national governments and in agreed solidarity with fellow EU member states, is needed urgently."

Elsewhere, Derry mayor Elisha McCallion is set to announce details about her emergency aid appeal, in conjunction with aid agency Trocaire later this week.

A static collection point for donations will be in place at the Guildhall as well as a number of other locations throughout the district.

Ms McCallion has organised a rally of solidarity this evening at the Guildhall Square to allow the people of Londonderry to show their solidarity with the many families seeking refuge.

She said: "I know the people of Derry have been moved by the shocking images of families and children in distress being shut out by countries who have the capacity to offer them comfort and aid in their hour of need.

"I am calling on the people of Derry and Strabane to rally behind this campaign, by attending the vigil, or through donations or volunteering their time to help collect. While the politicians prevaricate we can take action by providing practical aid, and helping families merely trying to find a safe place to live for their children."

The mayor is appealed for volunteers to help with fundraising. Anyone interested in volunteering their time can contact

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