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So many 'willing to turn their backs' on refugee crisis

Published 19/09/2016

Refugees and campaigners take part in a Refugees Welcome demonstration at Parliament Buildings Stormont
Refugees and campaigners take part in a Refugees Welcome demonstration at Parliament Buildings Stormont

Future generations will despair at the international response to the refugee crisis if more is not done to help those fleeing their homelands, a demonstration in Belfast was told

Refugees seeking asylum in Northern Ireland joined campaigners, politicians, trade union activists and church leaders at Stormont to demand more action.

The protest was held to coincide with Monday's United Nations summit in New York on the migrant crisis. US president Barack Obama will host his own high-level meeting on the issue on the fringes of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

The "Refugees Welcome" event at Parliament Buildings heard calls for the negotiations in New York to deliver results.

It was organised by Amnesty International and the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS).

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director, said: "I fear that when future generations look back at the response of our own government and other governments around the world to what is the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War they will hold their heads in despair that so many governments, so many countries, were willing to turn their backs on people in a time of desperate need.

"There really is an opportunity (at the UN) to do something about this, but we fear if the outcome is not adequate, if it is not up to the challenge, then millions of refugees face an ongoing desperate plight, whether lost in refugee camps with inhumane conditions or forced onto unseaworthy boats or into the backs of lorries risking their and their children's lives."

One of the asylum seekers who took part in the demonstration was Khanyisa Mafumo from Zimbabwe.

She and her husband fled Africa with their three children after her father-in-law was murdered by political opponents.

"They abducted him and tortured him and later on killed him," she said.

Mrs Mafumo, 30, said her application for asylum was still being processed almost three years after she arrived in Northern Ireland. She expressed frustration at the process and the fact she and her husband are unable to work until their status has been resolved.

"It is very frustrating, it's very hard - a very complicated and very distressing process," she said.

"It is still a waiting game where you have to make further submissions and still have to wait on them.

"You definitely can't live a full life - you are limited in your resources."

She added: "Today is about welcoming refugees into the country, hoping the welcoming of refugees will also lead to refugees having access to work and being able to live a normal independent life."

The Syrian conflict is set to dominate discussions at the UN.

Some 250 displaced people from the war-torn country have been resettled across Northern Ireland since last year.

They include dozens of children whose families were taken from refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey as part of the UK-wide Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme to resettle around 20,000 by 2020.

The scheme was set up following a public outcry after the death of toddler Alan Kurdi last year.

The Syrian conflict has created almost five million refugees.

According to the UN's refugee agency, so far this year 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe and more than 3,200 have died or gone missing.

Tens of thousands are also stranded in Greece and Italy.

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