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Refugee crisis: Hundreds attend vigil at Belfast City Hall

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Hundreds of people have attended vigils in Northern Ireland to show support for those caught up in the refugee crisis.

In Belfast, Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness joined crowds carrying "refugees welcome" placards and banners outside the City Hall.

They were addressed by some refugees who have settled in the region.

The event, hosted by Lord Mayor of Belfast Arder Carson coincided with a 'solidarity vigil ' in Londonderry.

Mr Carson said: "The scale of the refugee crisis across Europe and the Mediterranean has touched the hearts of millions of people over the course of the last week.

"Communities across Ireland have responded with generosity far beyond the actions of governments, offering to open their homes to help those in need.

"Governments need to listen to the voice of the people and put an adequate response in place to the growing humanitarian crisis."

Afterwards, during a specially convened meeting, public representatives were urged to support a refugee and asylum seekers strategy.

Meanwhile, the migrant crisis was also on the agenda during the first day of the new term at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr McGuinness said despite deep divisions over welfare reform and paramilitarism, politicians at Stormont were united in wanting to alleviate the plight of people fleeing war in Syria.

Applauding Germany for its response to the the crisis, the Sinn Fein minister said: "There is no doubt whatsoever that the First Minister (Peter Robinson) and I wish to contribute to playing our part in alleviating the plight of these poor people.

"Even though I think it is very sad that we have to see the dead body of an infant lying on a beach in Turkey for it to be brought home to everybody in society, I think there is a very strong response within society to what is an incredibly sad humanitarian crisis."

Last week Mr McGuinness said the region could accommodate up to 2,000 refugees.

Refugee crisis: how to help  

Meanwhile, SDLP Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood said the outpouring of goodwill from the general public should be matched by government action.

Stewart Dickson from the cross-community Alliance Party claimed Northern Ireland was morally obliged to help.

On Saturday around 300 people picketed the European Commission offices in Belfast City Centre.

And, hundreds more are expected to take to the streets this weekend for a rally staged by Trade Unions and Amnesty International.

Amnesty's Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said Stormont ministers should devise a plan to receive a "fair portion" of the overall number of refugees to be settled in the UK.

He said: "This would likely amount to at least several hundred refugees, who have had to flee war-torn Syria, being offered sanctuary in Northern Ireland between now and 2020.

"Northern Ireland government departments should now work with local statutory and voluntary agencies to develop a comprehensive plan to receive new arrivals and to better support those refugees from around the world who are already here."

Bishop Noel Treanor, from the Diocese of Down and Connor, said he was also putting together a team to provide food, clothing and address the capacity of accommodating refugees within parishes.

The DUP said there had been a "massive outpouring" of compassion and heartfelt sympathy for the Syrian people.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said: "Northern Ireland rightly has a great reputation for generosity and reaching out to help people in need across the globe.

"It stands ready again to play its proper role as part of the UK in helping to deal with one of the worst humanitarian crisis ever to afflict the world."

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