Northern Ireland

Refugees' housing in Belfast 'below basic standards'

The ceiling of one of the houses Image copyright PPHRP
Image caption The Housing Executive has said it will make sure repairs are carried out

Some Syrian refugees in west Belfast are living in conditions that fall well below basic standards, according to a human rights group.

A report by the Participation and Practice of Human Rights Project states that some of the properties have water leaks, damp and rodent infestations.

The accommodation has been provided by a private company which is contracted by the Housing Executive.

The Housing Executive said it will make sure that repairs are carried out.

The report - entitled We Came Here For Sanctuary - focuses on six families who have complained about the conditions which they have had to live in since they settled in Belfast through a United Nations scheme.

The housing assessed by the group was said to be "well below both domestic and international standards".

'Frequently ignored'

The families have been living in temporary accommodation while permanent housing is found for them.

They claim the poor housing has caused them physical and mental health problems.

Image copyright PPHRP
Image caption The report claims the issues have been 'raised repeatedly' by support agencies on behalf of the families

Some of the issues the families said they have faced include gas leaks, broken floors and in one case a fireplace coming off a living room wall.

The report concludes their concerns have been "all too frequently ignored or even treated, as they see it, with disdain".

The issues have also been "raised repeatedly" by support agencies on behalf of the families but "seem to fall on deaf ears", the report claimed.

'House full of damp'

One father, Abdelkader, told the BBC that the house his family is living in was not good for his children's health.

"I have two children - babies - and I face a house full of damp," he said through an interpreter.

"The medical condition of my baby doesn't allow us even to exist in a house like that since the house is full with mould - we reported this stuff.

"All I want is to find a house suitable for our kids."

Image copyright PPHRP
Image caption One of the issues was a fireplace coming off a living room wall

Another man, Ahmed, said water leaks have caused problems for his family and worms and slugs could be found in the kitchen.

'Failing'

The Participation and Practice of Human Rights Project said all six of the families were living in homes managed by Homecare Housing.

The company said it was not shown the critical report before it was published.

Elfie Seymour from the Participation and Practice of Human Rights Project said the Housing Executive was "failing" the refugees.

"A lot of public money is going in to housing these families and the UN resettlement scheme, which all these families came through, was supported widely by the general public," she said.

Image copyright PPHRP
Image caption The housing assessed by the group was said to be 'well below both domestic and international standards'

"We all had expectations about how these families would be welcomed and supported.

"But the agencies that were forced with doing this task are failing to meet those expectations."

Issues reported

The majority of the 248 families of Syrian refugees - 1,010 people - who have settled in Northern Ireland since December 2015 have had "no issues" with their accommodation, a Housing Executive spokesman said.

"All temporary accommodation is carefully sourced and inspected by the Housing Executive before any placement is made," he added.

"Following the placement periodic inspections are carried out - if there is any disrepair this is reported in the first instance to the private landlord.

"We are aware these issues have been reported to the landlord and we are sure they will be addressed."

Image copyright PPHRP
Image caption The report focuses on six families who have complained about the conditions which they have had to live in since they settled in Belfast through a United Nations scheme

The families said they have no issues with their medical care and the schooling of their children.

But some have said they have been subjected to racist harassment.

The report states that "rubbish, eggs and stones have been thrown at their homes" and children have been "beaten on their way to the shops or when playing outside".

One mother, Kamar, said she faces "a lot of racism where I live".

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