There have been calls for Belfast to become a ‘City of Sanctuary’ to provide a safe place for asylum seekers and refugees as efforts to identify housing for those fleeing the war in Ukraine ramp up.
The City of Sanctuary movement started in England in 2005 and is aimed at building a more welcoming UK for people forced to flee their own countries.
Since then hundreds of councils, schools, universities and others have been awarded with sanctuary status.
It comes as the Executive Office works to identify suitable properties to house those fleeing the war in Ukraine, with sources saying former military sites could potentially be used.
A motion by Ulster Unionist Dr John Kyle for discussion later this week would also see Belfast City Council become a Council of Sanctuary.
Dr Kyle said great work has already been done in the city in supporting and welcoming refugees, asylum seekers and others and he feels that should be recognised.
“Being a City of Sanctuary would allow us to draw on the resources and work of other cities that are part of the network so we can learn from them,” he said.
“Work on this has been ongoing for a few years and it is very likely that we will see a large influx of those fleeing Ukraine and elsewhere, so we felt this was a very appropriate time, as being a City of Sanctuary and Council of Sanctuary would help us with this.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has said there are currently no plans to use former military barracks as part of the Ukrainian refugee scheme and no request to do so has been received.
It comes after sources told the Belfast Telegraph the former Ballykinlar Army base is being considered to house refugees.
The Executive Office said: “We are working together with a wide range of partners in all parts of the public sector and the wider community to identify any suitable and appropriate accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.
“The Northern Ireland Housing Executive will examine all the potential sites to assess their suitability to provide safe and secure homes for refugees arriving here.”
South Down SDLP Assembly election candidate Karen McKevitt said: “We have a duty to do everything in our power to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian aggression from Putin’s regime.
“Whether at Ballykinlar in South Down or anywhere else, anything that provides shelter for people in desperate need should be supported by all parties.”
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council this week granted its chief executive delegated authority to find a property locally to serve as a welcome centre for those fleeing the war in Ukraine.