First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, along with Dr Livingstone Thompson, Chair of the Racial Equality Subgroup, have today announced the opening of a 12-week public consultation on a draft Refugee Integration Strategy.
The development of a Refugee Integration Strategy was a recommendation in the Executive's Racial Equality Strategy 2015 - 2025 to ensure a more co-ordinated and collaborative approach to supporting and helping resettle some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Launching the consultation First Minister Paul Givan said:
"Over the last number of years, we have all watched the devastating impact of the various humanitarian crises unfolding across the globe and the plight of those displaced from their homes.
"We very much want Northern Ireland to be a welcoming society and a place, where refugees can build a new life and achieve their full potential. During the crisis in Syria we were not found wanting - resettling more than 1,800 people - and we will not be found wanting when it comes to supporting those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan either.
"We do, however, recognise that we need to build on our work to date and develop a coordinated approach across Government to support all those who arrive here. I am therefore pleased that we are now launching a consultation on the Draft Refugee Integration Strategy and would encourage everyone to get involved and have their say."
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said:
"It is heartbreaking that so many people are being forced to flee their homes to escape conflict and persecution in various parts of the world. More people than ever are arriving here seeking refuge, and it is our moral duty to do everything we can to support them. This draft Strategy is therefore more critical than ever.
"We see, through our work on the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), what can be achieved when government departments and our partners in the voluntary and community sector come together. And it is vital that we continue to develop that work to ensure our interventions have the maximum positive benefit for the most vulnerable in our society.
"Refugees and asylum seekers arriving here bring increased diversity, skills and culture to our communities. By supporting them to overcome some of the initial barriers and integrate successfully, we are making this a more vibrant and diverse society from which we all benefit. I very much welcome this consultation and encourage as many people as possible to make their views known."
The Draft Strategy is intended to ensure support for both asylum seekers and refugees and identifies priority actions to facilitate successful integration.
Also attending the launch was the Rev Dr Livingstone Thompson, long term champion of Racial Equality and Good Relations and Chair of the Racial Equality Subgroup.
Dr Thompson said of the consultation: "This is an important Strategy to support some of the most vulnerable people in society and it is important that, collectively, we get it right. I therefore welcome the launch of this draft Strategy and encourage the relevant sectors to scrutinise it carefully and make their feedback to influence its final form. The provision of support to help remove barriers is necessary for meaningful integration. Adapting to a new culture, new language and different rules and regulations is incredibly challenging for newcomers and I am delighted to see this being put forward for wide-ranging consultation, to ensure that all are enabled to have their say."