Belfast children’s warm welcome for Syrian refugees

One of the cards left to welcome the Syrian refugees
One of the cards left to welcome the Syrian refugees

There will be a warm welcome for the first Syrian refugees when they arrive at the welcome centre in Belfast on Tuesday – but the surroundings are not ostentatious.

The building in which the refugees will be housed is the sort of setting in which school groups or church youth groups may stay for a weekend and as such has bedroom facilities, showers and basic catering facilities.

But it is a far cry from even a budget hotel.

On Monday staff and volunteers were busily preparing for the coming visitors, with hand-drawn welcome cards sent by members of the public hung on one wall, and boxes of toys waiting to be discovered by the children among the refugees.

Hand-knitted teddies and colouring books also await the children.

A cot was set up in one bedroom, indicating that at least one arrival is a young baby.

In the bedrooms, gift baskets with toiletries have been prepared.

Among the cards – some of which have been made by children and hundreds of which have not yet been put on display – are the phrases ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland’, ‘Welcome to Ireland’ and greetings in Arabic script.

One child has even recommended days out for the refugees, among them the Mourne Mountains and “sea sides”.

Inside the cards, one child wrote: “We hope you like Belfast”; another said “happy new home”.

Another inventive card included both an invitation to visit the child’s home and some chocolate.

It read: “You are so welcome to are [sic] house...Love Connie” and the words “eat me”, with an arrow pointing to two attached chocolates.