The refugees expected to be settled in Derry within months will not be housed in social housing, but in the private sector.
It was confirmed in a report brought before a meeting of Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Governance & Strategic Planning Committee on Tuesday that the estimates for any refugees arriving in the local area were April at the earliest.
The Syrians due to arrive locally will come under the British government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
This scheme, announced by British Prime Minister David Cameron in September 2015, involves resettling up to 20,000 Syrian Refugees over the course of the current UK Parliament.
The scheme will resettle displaced refugees who are currently living in camps in countries neighbouring Syria, principally Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. It does not extend to asylum seekers in Europe or in countries such as Libya.
The first group of refugees arrived in the north in December 2015 and have been resettled in the Greater Belfast area.
A report brought before the committee states: “Further groups will most likely be resettled outside of Greater Belfast area. The next group to arrive may possibly be resettled within the Derry City and Strabane District Council area.”
In a groundbreaking initiative, Mayor of Derry & Strabane, SInn Fein Councillor Elisha McCallion last year formalised the response to the refugee crisis via a Mayoral Initiative, and a Derry Strabane Civic Action for Refugees Group was set up.
The group brings together members of the relevant local voluntary and statutory organisations and works with Department for Social Development representatives in order to implement the required processes for refugee resettlement in this District.
The Mayoral Initiative has also included promoting awareness of the refugee crisis, and a Conference held in the Foyle Arena in November entitled, ‘From Syria to Sanctuary Here?’
A petition was also drafted to show support for the resettlement of refugees in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area as well as fundraising initiatives such as a street and door to door collection.
In terms of housing for the refugees, the report states: “A Housing Sub Group of the Civic Action for Refugee group has been established; however specific identification of appropriate housing and allocation of housing is being managed centrally by NIHE.
“Given the lack of social housing, the private rented accommodation will be used to accommodate the arriving refugees.”
Refugees admitted under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme are granted five years’ Humanitarian Protection with full access to employment and public funds and rights to family reunion comparable to refugees.
There is a caveat that an adult member of the families has to commit to learning English before benefits are allocated. These courses will be provided by Department of Education and Learning and will be Free of Charge.
Locally, a General Health and Wellbeing Sub Group of the Civic Action for Refugee group has also been established.
It has been informed that schools will be recommended to the refugee families in the areas of where they are housed. GPs will also be allocated on the basis of where the families are housed.
The Civic Action for Refugee Group is currently putting together a model for befriending/sponsorship.
The programme aims to support Syrian refugees in various ways such as via mentoring, providing volunteering opportunities and language support.
Council also plans to facilitate the collection of specific welcome packs for the families to be provided with on their arrivals. The packs will consist of items such as household items new toys, footballs, school uniform shop vouchers, oil/electric vouchers and Syrian food. Details will be publicised in the coming weeks.