A ‘heartwarming’ welcome for refugees

The Mayor of Derry and Strabane Councillor Elisha McCallion speaking at a  solidarity vigil held in Guildhall Square supporting refugees fleeing conflict.  DERR3615GS04
The Mayor of Derry and Strabane Councillor Elisha McCallion speaking at a solidarity vigil held in Guildhall Square supporting refugees fleeing conflict. DERR3615GS04

The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council (D.C.S.D.C.) has described the way in which 51 Syrian refugees were welcomed to the city this week as “heartwarming”.

Mayor Elisha McCallion has been heavily involved in helping to make sure the refugees fleeing war-torn Syria would be cared for and supported properly when they arrived in Derry.

Some Syrian children in a refugee camp on the Syrian border.

Some Syrian children in a refugee camp on the Syrian border.

Six Syrian families arrived in Derry on Tuesday. All six families are now living in temporary accommodation in the city side.

The families are all Muslims and are a mixture of Arabs, Kurds and Circassians.

“We have had cards and well wishes sent in by local schools, and so many items have been donated by groups to assist the refugees in settling into their new homes that we actually now have a surplus,” said Mayor McCallion.

“The generosity is heart-warming to see and I think this goodwill will continue as the families settle into their new communities.”

The Syrian Civil War started in 2011 and according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.) the conflict has created four million refugees.

In February, the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (S.C.P.R.) estimated that 470,000 people had been killed since the war started in March 2011.

Hundreds of people from Derry and other parts of the North West have been quick to extend a warm welcome to the Syrian refugees now living in Derry.

However, some believe issues affecting local people such as social housing and unemployment should be dealt with before welcoming refugees to Derry.

“I agree that we do have serious issues in terms of poverty, unemployment and a lack of social housing, and of course we have to be mindful that any support we can offer is limited, due to these issues,” said Mayor McCallion.

“But I think we have to realise that the level of crisis we are talking about here is on a scale which we have never before seen in modern times, and in all conscience we have to respond.

“We can’t even imagine the level of trauma that many of these families have already experienced, and this is literally a matter of life or death for innocent people regardless of age, race or religion.

“Through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons’ Relocation Scheme all these families have been assessed before resettlement to establish how great their need is, and these people have been identified as being among those at greatest risk.”

Although in the minority, many local people have expressed scepticism over the decision to let Syrian refugees settle in Derry.

Mayor McCallion urged anyone with the slightest amount of distrust to “put yourself in their [Syrian refugees] shoes”.

“As a mother of three young children it’s heart breaking to see other mothers struggling to care for their children in such harrowing circumstances. It’s so hard to even look at some of the news coverage - I can’t imagine the strength it must take to just get through every day.

“I would encourage people to learn more about the situation – the hundreds of deaths reported weekly of people fleeing by boat to other countries; the tens of thousands penned into cramped and squalid conditions in the camps; the families walking hundreds of miles with young children and a pack containing all that’s left of their past lives.

“Put yourself in their shoes and ask what you would do to get your family to safety. I think if you look at your own children and imagine a life of daily risk, no home, no possessions and no one to turn to, it will dispel any concerns about offering a place of refuge to those who are so desperate.”