Syrian Refugees In Northern Ireland

The civil war began in Syria in 2011 and by mid 2018 it was estimated that there were 6.7 million refugees from Syria, most taking refuge in neighbouring countries. By 2013 the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) began to ask countries to resettle vulnerable refugees. The UK Government agreed in 2015 to receive up to 20,000 people directly from countries neighbouring Syria, over a period of 5 years.

The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) Scheme 

Refugees began arriving in N Ireland in groups in 2015. The 24th group arrived in December 2019, bringing the total to 1726 people who have been welcomed here since the scheme began. The final total for N Ireland will be no more than 2,000 people over five years. The Department for Communities NI gives regular briefings about the scheme

Responding to Refugees from Syria

Many local people are helping to make the resettlement refugees feel welcome, including the use of church facilities and volunteers for English teaching and social activities.

Bryson Intercultural co-ordinates the consortium responsible for the welcome and integration of refugees arriving via the VPR scheme and they can receive offers of help from the public through their website.

Derry Strabane Civic Action for Refugees has prepared a guide for local people outlining ways of responding. The booklet, Help Them Live Again can be accessed at

Evangelical Alliance has listed 5 ways the Church can respond to the Refugee Crisis 

Good Practice
There is good practice guidance on respecting the rights of Syrian refugee families to privacy and family life in the Safeguarding Guidance document prepared by Bryson Intercultural and at the end of the Department for Communities briefing document.

The Law Centre NI and the NI Human Rights Commission have published a guide explaining the rights of VPR refugees in N. Ireland.

The VPR Resettlement Process

  • People come directly from countries around Syria, as part of the UK Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement (VPR) Scheme. It does not include the relocation of refugees who have arrived in other EU countries.
  • The scheme is based on need and is for vulnerable refugees such as survivors of torture and violence, and women and children at risk or in need of medical care. Close family can accompany them.
  • They are refugees already registered by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and put forward for consideration because the UNHCR does not think there is a future for them in their present situations.
  • UK officials do security checks and needs assessments.
  • Refugees who come here through the VPR scheme do not need to claim asylum.
  • Central government contributes towards the costs of the arrivals in terms of accommodation and integration support, health and education costs for the first year.
  • Housing is sourced through private landlords, so no additional offers of housing are required in the short term.
  • Individuals are given 5-years humanitarian protection with permission to work and access to healthcare and social welfare from the time of arrival.

For more details about the scheme read the House of Commons Library briefing paper on Syrian Refugees and the UK.

Community Sponsorship of Refugee Families

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Home Secretary launched the UK community sponsorship scheme for refugees in 2016. The first family to come to N Ireland, so far, arrived in 2019, with the help of a support group of people in Whitehead, Co. Antrim.

Find out more about the scheme at the website – click here.