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District rallies to support refugee families

20 April 2016

The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor Elisha McCallion, has said she has been completely overwhelmed by the generosity of local schools, community groups and businesses who have rallied to support her appeal for the refugee families expected to arrive in the city in the coming weeks.

Individuals and groups have been contributing to basic starter packs for the families who are relocating here in the city where they hope to make a new life after fleeing Syria. In recent months Cllr McCallion has been heading up the Civic Action for Refugees Group which has been taking a multi-agency approach to managing the preparations for their arrival.

Approximately ten families could be relocating here in the near future and Cllr McCallion said she was extremely moved by the efforts being made by local organisations to make them feel welcome here in the North West.

“When I put out this appeal for support I knew that people here would do what they could to help but I never expected such a generous and warm response. We have now reached the quota of goods which we will donate as starter packs to the refugees, who will be arriving with practically nothing. We will be able to provide families with basic food for their week here, and basic household essentials like duvets, towels, and cleaning materials as well as some toys for children and some other essentials. 

“I know that several local businesses have also rallied to offer help, including local banks in getting them set up with accounts etc, which will be essential for the families when they arrive and a number of local butchers will be selling Halal meat.

“These families, from the youngest to the oldest, have had to endure some appalling conditions on their journey to safety. They are ordinary families – like yours or mine, who used to live ‘ordinary’ lives in Syria. They are arriving here through the Syrian Vulnerable Peoples Relocation scheme, relocated from horrendous conditions in the refugee camps in countries like Turkey and Lebanon. It will be a pleasure to welcome them to our district where I know they will be embraced as part of our diverse community.

“It’s moments like these which make me so proud of my role as Mayor of Derry and Strabane, thank you to everyone for your ongoing support for my appeal which is now closing. And I especially want to acknowledge all the work going on behind the scenes by the agencies involved in the Civic Action for Refugees Group in preparation for the arrival.”

The packs will now be distributed to the homes which have been prepared for the refugees.

Sue Divin from the Council’s Good Relations team said they were delighted at how plans were progressing for the arrival. “We have been working with a range of agencies across the city and beyond, including The Red Cross, DSD, Barnardos and Extern as well as others, to ensure that we can offer the very best welcome for the families when they get here.

“The amount of good will has been fantastic and the families will be greeted with well wishes and cards from local school children on their arrival. We know that this city and district has pulled together across sectors in a way that really will make a difference to the Syrian refugee families who will make our council area their new home.

“We will now be working with our partner agencies to deliver the packs to the allocated homes, and we have in place an effective support network for the families to assist in their integration into the community. There have been so many donations that we will arrange for any surplus items to be distributed to some of the refugees from this grouping who are relocating in Belfast and local homeless charities who will also benefit from the fantastic generosity of the public.”

The starter pack appeal is just the latest effort in an ongoing drive led by the Mayor to offer aid to refugees seeking asylum from conflict affected countries such as Syria. As well as practical items, people have also donated money to the appeal, and some local businesses and community groups are offering voluntary services to assist incoming families.

Over the past fortnight a series of refugee awareness training sessions were held to highlight some of the key issues faced by local refugees, and there was a huge response from local groups, statutory agencies and concerned individuals. Training focused on promoting greater understanding of the circumstances of the refugees’ arrival, for example the fact that housing costs are covered under the Syrian Vulnerable People’s Relocation Scheme which is funded from Westminster with no negative impact on local budgets. Furthermore families are selected and carefully vetted and identified from amongst the most vulnerable people in refugee camps – for example people with disabilities or significant illness, victims of torture, or people whose identity puts them at extreme risk.

If you would like to find out more about the Mayor’s initiatives, go to www.derrystrabane.com/mayor/initiatives