16th group of Syrian refugees arrive in north
NORTHERN Ireland has welcomed its 16th group of Syrian refugees.
The group of 22 families totalling 86 people flew into Belfast International Airport on Thursday.
They will stay at a welcome centre in Belfast for several days before being resettled.
The latest arrival brings the total number of refugees brought to Northern Ireland under the UK-wide Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation scheme to 1,096.
The scheme is coordinated locally by the Department for Communities. Spokesman Ian Snowden said some of the new arrivals are among the most vulnerable refugees to flee from Syria.
"Northern Ireland is very proud of its role in providing a safe haven for some of the most vulnerable people in society," he said.
"It has been a great pleasure working on this scheme and I was pleased to see a further 22 families arrive this week.
"The nature of the programme, given the sheer size and complexity of it, and given that we are receiving some of the most vulnerable refugees to flee Syria, means that it has been challenging.
"We are adapting each day and I have learned a lot about a different culture."
The first group of Syrian refugees arrived in Northern Ireland in December 2015.
Mr Snowden said the scheme is working very well, with colleagues from across the UK visiting to "learn from our approach".
"When the refugees arrive they stay in a welcome centre in Belfast for a number of days where they receive information, advice and guidance on issues ranging from housing, benefits, the law, banking systems and a little about life in Northern Ireland including the joys of our weather," he said.
"This has worked well and provides the refugees with a few days to catch their breath after the ordeal they have experienced, to rest after their flight to Northern Ireland and to prepare for their new life."
Mr Snowden said the families from previous arrivals are integrating into the local community.
"Obviously each family and individual is different and integrating and adjusting to life in Northern Ireland at different paces," he said.
"All have embraced the opportunity they have been afforded.
"Most arrive with very limited English. They have thrown themselves into learning the language.
"All children of school age are in school, many of the adults have found employment and other are studying. Importantly too, many are also getting involved in local community groups and activities.
"The whole scheme has been such a success because of the combined efforts from the public, community and voluntary sectors as well as from families and individuals across Northern Ireland in the streets, villages, towns and cities where the refugees have settled. I am thankful to everyone who has played their part."
The Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme was announced by former prime minister David Cameron in 2015 in response to the war in Syria.
It aims to resettle 20 000 Syrian refugees from refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey in the UK by May 2020.