“We came here for sanctuary. We didn’t come here to be abused.”

Six Syrian refugee families living in Belfast under the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme – launched in 2014 to provide refuge to those in most need as a result of the conflict in Syria – have spoken out about the substandard housing conditions and recurrent incidents of racism they are experiencing.

The families’ experiences are detailed in a report, in partnership with the Belfast-based human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR).

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, went on local radio to say that the situation cannot continue:

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