'Overwhelming support' for Syrian refugees travelling to Belfast
Aid workers preparing for the arrival of the first group of Syrian refugees to resettle in Northern Ireland say they have been overwhelmed by public offers of support.
A number of families who have been living in a makeshift camp in the Lebanon since fleeing their war-torn homeland will travel to Belfast tomorrow as part of the UK-wide relocation scheme.
The 51 Syrians, many of them young children, will spend a number of days in one facility in the city to orientate themselves with their new surroundings.
Awaiting them are hundreds of cards and messages of welcome from local people of all ages. A room full of children's toys and even a Christmas tree have also been provided.
Denise Wright from the Refugee and Asylum Forum said the public response had been amazing.
"One of the things we have seen is an overwhelming sense of people in the general community saying 'what we can we do?'," she said.
"My phone has been ringing off the hook (with people asking) 'what can we do, what can we give?"
Ms Wright said there was now no need for any more practical donations for the arriving families.
"We've already got everything that we require," she said. "But one of the things we have asked if you want to do something is send welcome cards."
The location of the refugees' temporary accommodation is not being disclosed in order to ensure their privacy in the first few days adjusting to their new home.
They are travelling from a refugee camp in Beirut where some of them have been living for a number of years.
During their first days in Belfast, the Syrians will receive medical, police and legal briefings about how life works in Northern Ireland.
Each family will be assigned a key worker, as well as offered translation support.
Neil McKittrick from the British Red Cross said: "The intention behind all of this is to really make it a welcoming place for the folk coming over from Syria.
"If you put yourself in their shoes they are coming from a terrible conflict in Syria, they have moved to refugee camps, this group will have been in Lebanon - they will have been there for a number of years.
"I suppose when they left they had hoped they would be back home pretty quick but that hasn't happened - they have been in refugee camps for a while.
"Coming to Northern Ireland, or coming to Europe at all, was not their number one option - it was probably one of the last things they considered.
"But such is the stage these people are at, they've really no choice but to come and get help and in Northern Ireland we are delighted we are able to support them."
Earlier this month a group calling itself the Protestant Coalition organised a protest in Belfast city centre to demonstrate against the arrival of the Syrians.
However, only around 25 turned up and participants were significantly outnumbered by a counter-demo organised by people voicing a message of welcome.