Belfast Telegraph

Refugees welcome: Inside the Northern Ireland centre that will house migrants fleeing Syria

Refugees who fled their homes in war-torn Syria will arrive in Northern Ireland on Tuesday - and this is the welcome centre that will greet them.

Toys, a Christmas tree and hundreds of colourful handmade cards have been provided by local youngsters for the children on their way, many of whom will remember nothing of their homeland other than the civil war that has gripped Syria for over four years.

A total of 51 refugees will fly to Belfast from Lebanon, where they have been living in a makeshift camp. Eleven of them are children aged under five, including one baby.

The families will be staying at the welcome centre from Tuesday night, where they will be registered and receive medical, police and legal briefings about how life works in Northern Ireland.

The location of the refugees' temporary accommodation is not being disclosed in order to ensure their privacy in the first few days as they adjust to their new home.

They will then be assigned homes to begin their new lives, resettling in Northern Ireland as part of the UK-wide relocation scheme.

Aid workers preparing for the arrival say they have been overwhelmed by public offers of support.

"One of the things we have seen is an overwhelming sense of people in the general community saying 'what we can we do?'," said Denise Wright from the Refugee and Asylum Forum.

"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 refugees are travelling from a refugee camp in Beirut where some of them have been living for a number of years.

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.

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