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Playing our part to help refugees

By Les Allamby

Published 22/09/2015

A migrant sits on his luggage as migrants and refugees queue at a camp to register after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelija. (NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A migrant sits on his luggage as migrants and refugees queue at a camp to register after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelija. (NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images)

We are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, dealing with people fleeing Syria and elsewhere. Half of those arriving in Europe are coming directly from Syria while others are fleeing Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn countries.

It's worth remembering that the substantial majority seek refuge in neighbouring countries rather than taking the risky journey to Europe. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.

There is clearly a need for a co-ordinated European Union-wide approach to those arriving, alongside humanitarian support for those countries shouldering the burden in countries neighbouring war-torn zones.

Moreover, solving the conflict in Syria and elsewhere through diplomatic and political means is also a vital but far from easy component in any durable resolution.

The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey of 2012 revealed that public opinion here is more positive on immigration than in Great Britain. Recent rallies and events support this. Northern Ireland's willingness to take part in the UK Government's Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme is particularly welcome.

The Refugee and Asylum forum locally has identified key actions that could be delivered by the Northern Ireland Executive.

They include a long-term commitment to funding the Syrian refugee settlement, as the UK Government is only guaranteeing funds for the first year; developing a refugee integration strategy to co-ordinate and monitor interventions and develop initiatives to ensure refugees from Syria, or elsewhere, do not face destitution; providing access to free accredited English language classes for those who need it and making the OFMDFM crisis fund a permanent arrangement.

Harnessing the energy of and funding local refugee support organisations is also essential to ensuring a safe and sustainable programme for refugees.

Despite our political difficulties, the forum's action points are readily achievable. We are not impotent. The old adage of think globally, act locally has never been more apposite.

  • Les Allamby is chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Belfast Telegraph

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