Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is preparing for the possible resettlement of Syrian refugees within the borough, it has been revealed.
While it has not yet been confirmed that any refugees from the Middle East conflict will be coming to the borough, a meeting is to take place today (Wednesday) between council officials and their statutory and community partners to make plans, should local involvement in the resettlement programme be sought by central Government.
A report presented at a full council meeting on Monday, January 4 revealed that the chief executive, Anne Donaghy, had organised the initial meeting with stakeholders including the PSNI, NIHE, DOE, community and church forums on a borough-wide basis to discuss preparations.
Representatives from Larne Community Development project, Larne Tuesday group, Carrickfergus Community Forum and Carrickfergus Borough Churches’ Forum were among those scheduled to attend.
The report pointed out that while there has to date been “no indication” that Mid and East Antrim will be asked to take refugees in relation to the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (SVPRS), it is “Council’s job” to ensure they are prepared should the area be selected.
Councillors were also reminded that following the announcement in September, 2015 by the Prime Minister of an expansion of the VPR scheme to resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees, the NI Executive had offered to receive a group of 50-100 by the end of December and further groups in the New Year.
Members were told that, currently, council is awaiting further advice from the Department for Social Development on whether Mid and East Antrim will be asked to resettle any refugees.
Should that happen, it was claimed that council’s involvement should require “modest” staff resource and no financial commitment.
The report noted that the VPR scheme prioritises certain groups of people, including those with medical needs, those who have survived violence and torture, women at risk, or vulnerable children.
The process established by the Strategic Planning Group and Operational Planning Group to resettle refugees involves them first being taken to a welcome centre before being moved to temporary accommodation secured by the Housing Executive.
The report states that “it is hoped that within a period of six months the temporarily accommodated refugees will then be moved to permanent accommodation”.