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Number of Syrian refugees coming to Northern Ireland will be 'small'

Published 04/11/2015

Many refugees have made their way to Europe (AP)
Many refugees have made their way to Europe (AP)

The number of Syrian refugees coming to Northern Ireland will be small, support organisations said.

Free English classes are essential to help integrate the newcomers who could otherwise take generations to catch up, according to the Refugee and Asylum Forum.

Some people will be unable to work because of their experiences in their homeland and campaigners urged community leaders to speak with one voice to support those accepted next month.

Thousands of the displaced are languishing in camps bordering the Middle East war zone and the Prime Minister has announced the UK as a whole will take up to 20,000 over the next five years.

Denise Wright, race relations co-ordinator at the Forum, said: "It is not just the politicians, church leaders, there needs to be broad leadership saying this is a good thing for Northern Ireland.

"We are doing this because it is the right thing to do."

She said the number involved would be small but warned some support organisations would see a doubling in the number they worked with.

The refugees are likely to include those in need of medical care, victims of torture and sexual violence, the elderly, the disabled and children.

She added: "We are bringing in small numbers and learning from the first group and being able to evaluate clearly as we go through. They are all human beings and each experience is going to be different.

"We are not entirely sure what we are facing. We are talking small numbers coming in on a regular basis."

She said she was confident that when Syrian refugees come they will be "killed with kindness" but acknowledged a level of negativity and Islamophobia which she put down to fear and ignorance.

The witness before Stormont's OFMDFM committee called for clear communication with the public about those coming and what rights and entitlements they have.

She added: "If you don't get free English language classes you could end up with (it taking) a couple of generations for people to catch up."

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