April 29, 2016

The new group of Syrian refugees in Northern Ireland are a mixture of Arabs, Kurds and Circassians

The 57 men, women and children - the second group to arrive in Northern Ireland - were welcomed at Belfast International Airport from Turkey on Thursday morning.

Among the 14 families are 20 children.

They will all spend the coming days at a welcome centre before moving to their new homes.

Thursday's new arrivals are a mixture of Arabs, Kurds and Circassians, all Muslim.

Read more: How Northern Ireland MPs voted on accepting child refugees from Europe

The youngest is two and the oldest aged mid-50s. Several have university-level education.

All bar one family will be housed by the Housing Executive in Londonderry - one will go to the greater Belfast area because a wheelchair user needs accessible accommodation.

Some were plumbers or bakers in their native home - forced by conflict to flee to new houses in Londonderry with barely a word of English.

Speaking ahead of their arrival, Denise Wright, a coordinator for the Refugee and Asylum Forum, said: "Most in the camps don't want to go to Europe. They want to go back to their homes again.

"This is a last resort for many. They are deciding they may never see other members of their family again.

"If they stay in camps they may not make it."

This is the second group accepted in Northern Ireland as part of the UK-wide Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme to resettle around 20,000 by 2020.

The last intake was accepted from a camp near Beirut in Lebanon on December 15, before the snows of winter in Belfast.

One said: "When it snows in camps, children start to die."

A lot of the men had been abducted for ransom by combatants and beaten while being held; one victim did not know who kidnapped him.

The most needy have been targeted for the resettlement programme, women and children, torture victims, those with significant medical needs.

In December some were driving down the motorway from the airport towards Belfast before they realised they were in Northern Ireland rather than London.

This time more information has been sent to the group before their arrival.

All families will be permitted to remain in the UK for five years with the opportunity of attaining citizenship. They have passed all Home Office screening tests for criminality.

The Home Office has provided at least £11,120 per refugee to cover the first year's cost.

Members of the group are not allowed to stray across the border into the Republic. They will be eligible to claim benefits but will have to make the same efforts to find work as everybody else.

None in the last intake have yet found work. The intention is to match them with jobs fitting their skill levels rather than simply taking low paid service industry posts.

They can apply for dependent family members to join them in Northern Ireland but have not yet done so.

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