Syrian families

Six Syrian refugee families living in West Belfast under the United Nations Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme - launched in 2014 to provide refuge to those in most need as a result of the conflict in Syria “including people requiring urgent medical treatment, survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk” - have spoken out about the substandard housing conditions and recurrent incidents of racism they are experiencing.                           

All six families are housed in properties managed by Homecare Housing - a private company funded to work with the NIHE to source temporary private landlord accommodation.

The families’ experiences are detailed in a report released today (30 July 2018), in partnership with the Belfast-based human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR).The report, entitled “We came here for sanctuary”, provides key recommendations for authorities to resolve persistent and unresolved problems including:

  • an investigation into the failure of existing authorities, those trusted with responsibility to provide care and support to the families and provided with funding, to acknowledge and address the deteriorating conditions despite countless reports from families. Authorities include public sector bodies, voluntary organisations and private sector bodies responsible for housing provision;
  • an audit of existing properties provided by private sector organisations and landlords to identify housing which fails to meet the basic standards. Immediate steps must be taken to ensure that no further allocations and no further expenditures of public money are made to landlords/management companies until such time as their properties are made fully compliant with the standards;
  • immediate remedies for persisting problems outlined in the report, including the promised resettlement of families into permanent accommodation.

The report, which has been sent to local authorities, the UK Department for International Development, and the relevant United Nations authorities, also calls on local bodies with power and responsibility – such as Belfast City Council and the Human Rights Commission – to use their powers of investigation in the event of responsible bodies refusing to act.

“We came here for sanctuary” chronicles successive incidents of families’ reporting problems, such as chronic dampness, rodent infestation, failure to provide basic health and safety protections, racist abuse and attacks – with no apparent action being undertaken by authorities to address. One father said:

"From the day I arrived I noticed rising dampness in all of the rooms in the house. My daughter was born prematurely at seven months and has serious ongoing health issues – especially with her breathing and chest. When my daughter was born she had a haemorrhage in the lungs. She takes an inhaler daily. The doctor has stated that she cannot continue to live in these conditions... I have reported the problems to Homecare many times and they are aware that the situation is making my daughter sick.”

Elfie Seymour, an organiser with PPR who has supported the families, said that the situation cannot continue:

“Immediate action needs to be taken to ensure that these families do not continue to suffer. Questions need to be asked about how this has been allowed to happen and to continue for years? Why does public money continue to be paid to private companies who, as these families testify, are evidently failing to provide even basic levels of services and care? Where is the accountability?

Everyone mentioned in the report has raised these issues and made complaints multiple times; to the agencies who contractually support them, to Homecare Housing, to the Northern Irish Housing Executive and to the PSNI. All of these have failed to ensure the basic rights of the people they are responsible for are met. The families have met with community representatives who have met with the relevant authorities but they need action. The public overwhelmingly support the Syrian Resettlement Scheme but our goodwill is being undermined as the agencies and organisations we entrusted fail to deliver.

The Syrian families, alongside organisations and residents from West Belfast, will be available for interviews and photographs Monday (30 July 2018) at 1pm at An Cultúrlann (216 Falls Rd).

For further information, contact Elfie Seymour (07887388385 and elfie@pprproject.org)