Campaigners planning a protest against Syrian refugees should not expect a warm reception from the rest of the people of Northern Ireland, Stormont’s First Minister has said.
Peter Robinson told the Assembly those intending to demonstrate in Belfast had got the “wrong idea” about the Syrians coming to the region later this month.
A group calling itself the Protestant Coalition is planning a “Say no to refugees” protest outside Belfast City Hall on Saturday.
Mr Robinson reiterated his opposition to the event as he addressed Assembly members at Parliament Buildings on Tuesday.
A number of families fleeing the war-torn Middle East state will arrive in Northern Ireland on December 15 as part of the UK-wide resettlement programme.
Around 50 refugees are expected in the first group, with around half aged under 16.
Responding to a question from SDLP MLA Alban Maginness, Mr Robinson told the Assembly: “It needs to be remembered that these are people who have had complete security checks carried out. They are families that are coming into Northern Ireland - ten or 11 families will be coming in.
“They are people who have faced in some cases torture, in other cases trauma. They are people who are in need of support. They are not the Mediterranean economic migrants - these are people who are genuine refugees.
“If I know anything about the people of Northern Ireland, the people of Northern Ireland are a charitable and giving people who will extend the hand of welcome.”
Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness jointly condemned the planned protest after a meeting of the British Irish Council in London last week.
The First Minister said there had been a very positive response to his and Mr McGuinness’s comments.
“I have just noticed over the last few days since the Deputy First Minister and I were covered on television speaking about this issue I have had several churches and a number of individuals all wanting to know how they can put themselves forward in order to give assistance and support and welcome to these people,” he said.
“So I don’t think those who are going to campaign against the presence of refugees will get a very warm hearing from the people of Northern Ireland. I think people have the wrong idea about the refugees if they think these are people who should be objected to - far from it, they are people who should be given every degree of support and welcome.”
Mr Robinson was updating the Assembly on the outcome of Friday’s British Irish Council (BIC) exchanges.
The BIC is made up of the Irish and British governments, the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, along with political representatives from the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.
Mr Robinson said the issue of refugees was high on the agenda during the meeting and said the experiences related by officials from Scotland, which has already received Syrians, was very useful.