Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the launch of the new booklet “An essential Guide for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in NI “ at City Hall in Belfast. NICRAS (Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers) had been working on this booklet for months and at the launch, we heard from many refugees and asylum seekers who had contributed to and tested the guide before publication.

Best estimate is that 200-300 new refugees arrive in NI every year and there are approximately 600 asylum seekers awaiting approval to become refugees. On top of these numbers there are over 550  Syrian refugees who have arrived in NI since December ‘15.

These people arrive in NI with next to nothing and they get next to nothing. Expected to survive on £36.95 each week they have to fend for themselves in a strange country, often faced with hostility and resistance and a lack of understanding locally of the trauma and situations they are dealing with or have left behind.  This new guide will be invaluable, explaining everything from how and where to get a bus,  to registering with a doctor and a dentist, where to get accommodation, welfare benefits, (if any) and how to educate children within our complicated system. . . As NICRAS and those that tested the guide highlighted it will “put power into people’s hands” .

What struck me most was how much more we need to do as a society in NI. So many of our ancestors and loved ones have travelled and settled, contributed to and are to this day welcomed into societies and countries abroad. We need to do more to welcome and ensure refugees and asylum seekers that live in NI  are treated with the respect and dignity we would expect for ourselves. These people are human beings, not numbers….

A Jamaican refugee gave the analogy of a tourist arriving in Jamaica being met at the airport by Kevin the tour operator. Kevin is like a personal buddy, showing the tourist where to stay, eat (local or international food), how to get around, where to go in an emergency, where to get medical help if needed etc. Imagine if all refugees and asylum seekers in NI had a Kevin to support them?

It was also great to see some local politicians attend the launch and perhaps they too will have been struck by the lack of support, services and basic dignity / human rights deserved by yet denied to refugees and asylum seekers and recognise the contribution made by these people to our society.

As the motto of our City Council states “Pro tanto quid retribuamus.” translated as “In return for so much, what shall we give back?”

To date, Refugees and Asylum seekers in NI  have very little and congratulations to NICRAS on this Essential Guide and One Small Step in supporting them.

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Siofra Healy: An essential Guide for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Northern Ireland
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