A number of parishioners from St Patrick’s Parish Church, Whitehead, are striving to give new hope – and a new life – to a refugee family from war ravaged Syria.
They are members of the Whitehead Small World Group, which includes people from other churches in the area, as well as others who have no faith background.
The group is hoping to provide a new home to a family from Syria and to support that family for their first two years in Northern Ireland.
Members have raised substantial funds, identified a house and are about to put an application into the Home Office for the Community Sponsorship Scheme.
Jeni McAughey, a parishioner of St Patrick’s and group member, said: “For most of us it is impossible to imagine what life must be like for people in Syria.
“Two hundred and fifty thousand have already been killed. Four million have had to leave their country. They had no choice and now they are living in dire conditions in refugee camps in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. What must that be like?
“Imagine being forced from your home and into another country, leaving everything familiar behind and knowing you may never go back.”
Jeni said the group in Whitehead came together to do something practical to help, and is working closely with Citizens UK and in conjunction with the UK government which has pledged to allow 20,000 vulnerable refugees to settle in the UK.
“As the Government has made pledges to offer places of safety for these refugees, the selected family will have access on arrival to work and/or benefits, also to education and health services,” Jeni said.
“Our aim will be to provide practical support for the family for up to two years, while they become familiar with their new home and settle into our community. With time they will become more independent and need less support.
“Our family, having been chosen and processed by The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, will arrive from the borders of Syria with very few possessions, after a period of very challenging and frightening experiences.”
The Whitehead Small World Group has raised enough money to meet the Home Office requirement for a guarantee, sourced what the group hopes will be a suitable house, and is organising a team of volunteers to support the family.
“It is our hope that other communities and town will consider doing something similar and we are happy to support anyone interested in this,” Jeni said.
The rector of Whitehead and Islandmagee, the Rev Canon Mark Taylor, said: “These people are our neighbours. We know people in Northern Ireland who have had to leave their homes suddenly and quickly as a result of terrorism. Can we do anything other than offer them a welcome?”