Northern Ireland

Syrian refugees: Families arriving in Belfast 'grateful' to be safe

Pictures have been made welcoming the refugees to Belfast Welcome Centre
Image caption Pictures have been made welcoming the refugees to Belfast Welcome Centre

Twelve Syrian refugee families who arrived in Belfast yesterday are said to be "grateful" to be safe in Northern Ireland.

The families are staying in a special welcome centre before moving to their new homes in Londonderry next week.

Fifty-seven refugees were expected on Thursday, but ten people, made up of two families, were unable to travel.

Neill McKittrick, from the Red Cross, said they were "completely exhausted" but relieved.

Image caption The group of refugees range in age from two years old to 57

"You could see the weight coming of their shoulders as they walked to meet you. They're just so grateful to be safe.

"At the last minute we found out that two (families) weren't able to travel.

"The two families that didn't come, and we're not exactly sure the reasons for that, our thoughts were with them during the day as well."

'Smiles, hugs and handshakes'

A total of 98 refugees have now arrived in Northern Ireland since the conflict in Syria. The first group of Syrian refugees arrived in December 2015.

It is expected that those original families who arrived before Christmas will meet the new families on Monday.

Mr McKittrick said the families who arrived on Thursday communicate mostly through "smiles, hugs and handshakes".

"In the main their English is quite limited but you would be amazed at how quickly they pick it up.

"Through the use of translators we can communicate very well with them."

The families are now learning about Northern Ireland, about their rights and entitlements.

They will also meet the police and find out more about Derry where they will eventually live.

Image caption Both church leaders in Derry welcomed the refugees

Senior church leaders in Derry have already been welcoming the Syrian families.

Most of the new refugees come from the cities of Aleppo and Homs in northern Syria.

Both cities have seen some of the heaviest fighting and are key battlegrounds in the Syrian civil war.

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