Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Local councils begin preparations for refugee arrivals

As Northern Ireland prepares to deal with the arrival of the first groups of Syrian refugees in the coming months, local councils are seeking clarification on the logistics of the distribution of those arriving and the numbers each council will be responsible for.

Stormont have confirmed that up to 100 refugees will arrive in Northern Ireland by Christmas.

An Operational Planning Group has been set up by the UK government and strategies have been put in place to deal with the numbers coming in. Stormont officials have also provided some detail regarding an induction period for refugees, which will involve them receiving any necessary medical attention before the process of National Insurance numbers and medical cards allocation begins. Refugees will then be eligible to apply for benefits and will receive some general information on life in Northern Ireland.

Newry Mourne and Down District Council says it has agreed to offer sanctuary to at least 100 refugees in the coming months “or the number allocated by the government.”

According to a Council spokesperson, two working groups: a strategic planning group headed by OFMDFM, and an operational group chaired by the Department for Social Development and which is meeting weekly, have been established to deal with the issue.

“Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s representative sits on the Operational Planning Group and co-ordinates the work of all the councils outside Belfast,” added the spokesperson,

“The Operational Planning Group is continuing to work on the planning arrangements, including an analysis of possible settlement locations. At this stage in the analysis, all council areas are being considered. Factors such as the availability of housing and capacity in other key public services are taken into account. Given current demand on the social housing sector, other options, including the private rented sector, are being explored. Both the immediate and longer term needs of those who arrive in Northern Ireland are being considered.”

Chair of the Operational Planning Group, Ian Snowden, said it is expected that 10 to 15 refugee households will be initially brought to an area. He said these numbers would be large enough to allow the refugees to form informal support networks with people who share a cultural background and language but not so large that local communities feel overwhelmed.

“The assistance of councils in building a tolerant and welcoming environment for refugees will be essential,” he added.