Northern Ireland

Syrian refugees: Celebration party held in Belfast

Party guests dancing
Image caption Dancing to welcome the Syrian refugees

When Syrian families came to Belfast before Christmas secrecy surrounded their arrival.

The media was not allowed to report where they were staying initially.

Fears over their safety were taken seriously because of the increase in racist attacks the previous year.

On Saturday night some of that was relaxed when a party was held in south Belfast to celebrate their arrival and welcome them to Northern Ireland.

Image caption Louia's family spent two years in Beirut

Louia is 18 and spent two years in Beirut after fleeing his home in Syria with his mum, sister and younger brother.

He told me their father died in August from injuries inflicted when he was tortured in prison.

Speaking in English, he said: "I want to thank the people of Belfast and the government for looking after us.

"I want to thank you a million times."

Then, through a translator, he told me the welcoming party was very important: "When I met all the other Syrians I feel like I'm at home. We discussed all the issues going on in Syria and we felt as if we were at home. We enjoyed all of it."

'We want them to integrate'

Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, an Iraqi who has lived in Northern Ireland for 26 years, helped to organise the event.

"We want them to integrate, we want them to meet local people from the Arab community and local Irish and British people and we also invited potential employers and social clubs to meet them because we want to integrate them as quickly as possible into the community," he said.

MLAs Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Emma Pengelly were also there along with the principals of two schools who had several newcomer families join their student population.

Image caption Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said the people of Belfast showed an 'overwhelming' amount of 'generosity' when the refugees arrived before Christmas

Mr Ó Muilleoir said: "The people of Belfast showed an overwhelming amount of generosity when they arrived before Christmas but for all sorts of reasons there wasn't the opportunity to express that.

"We need to make sure that when people come here from other lands having survived the civil war in Syria, coming through the hardships of the refugee camps that when they come here we make them as welcome as the Irish have been made all over the world."

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