Derry’s Syrian refugee families settling in well

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

Derry’s ten new Syrian refugee families are “very appreciative of all the help they have received since their arrival,” the council has been told.

Derry & Strabane Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee was told by Ian Snowden from the Department For Communities on Tuesday that a total of 47 people have relocated from Turkish camps near the border with Syria direct to Derry.

Two of the families due to come to Derry didn’t make it due to illness and travel complications, while there are four pregnant women among those who have arrived.

“These are people coming from a desperate situation,” Mr Snowden said, adding that the refugees included people who have fled artillery attacks, whose homes have been destroyed and whose family members have been killed.

The families are now being housed in temporary private-sector housing accommodation, and will receive several months of intensive support.

“Quite a lot of the people coming in have very small children of school age,”Mr Snowden said. “The Education Authority have already identified suitable schools.

“The integration process is crucial. We have worked with a consortium of voluntary sector organisations and they have identified a key worker to work with each family.

“The Mayor has set up an Action Group which has been quite active in getting care packs and organising the community response,” he added.

Speaking about how the group have settled in, Mr Snowden said: “I have had a report this morning that they have settled in very well and are very appreciative of all the help they have received since they arrived here.” There are also plans to re-settling more families to Derry & Strabane, possibly in 2017 or 2018.

Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper praised the reception and said that the refugees were “more than grateful” for the help they have received.

SDLP Colr. John Boyle added: “It is quite remarkable that already we have people arriving here being provided with care and compassion, which is what we Irish are renowned for. Long may it continue.”

Independent Councillors Warren Robinson and Gary Donnelly both said that it was great to see the welcome the refugees have received, and asked if the Department could be doing more to challenge the misinformation on social media and among the community generally.

Mr Snowden said that while there was “nonsense” being spewed, the Department had issued accurate information, and said refugees are only entitled to the same benefits as everyone else.

Committee Chair, Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Carlin, said: “Everything has gone so smoothly and so well and it is a testament to the hard work that has gone on in the background.” She also praised the role of the Mayor and local people in ensuring a great welcome was extended “to those unfortunate souls who have fled from God knows what”.

A separate report to the committee detailed how, as a result of the Council’s ‘Let Them Live Again’ campaign, each Syrian family has been provided with basic equipment as well as toys, clothes and sporting equipment. The Mayor’s initiative has raised £13,500 for the refugees.