Council prepares to resettle refugees

Mid & East Antrim Borough Council. (Editorial Image).
Mid & East Antrim Borough Council. (Editorial Image).

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 was scheduled last 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 in Ballymena last Monday night revealed that the chief executive, Anne Donaghy, had organised the initial meeting with stakeholders including the PSNI, NI Housing Executive, DOE, Northern Health & Social Care Trust, Public Health Agency, as well as community and church forums on a borough-wide basis to discuss preparations.

Representatives from Ballymena Inter Ethnic Forum, Ballymena Inter Ethnic Support Group, Ballymena Community Cluster Groups and from North and South Antrim Community Networks were among those scheduled to attend along with Councillors and Council officers.

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 Northern Ireland 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.