Refugees to get free English lessons in NI

Dr Stephen Farry
Dr Stephen Farry

Refugees living in Northern Ireland are being offered free English lessons to help them settle into society.

Classes will be offered in further education colleges across the region, according to Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry.

He said: “The measures I have announced today ensure that no one who comes to Northern Ireland seeking refuge from persecution or war is disadvantaged simply because of their immigration status.”

The first group of refugees from war-torn Syria arrived in December.

The 51 people, many of them children, had been staying in makeshift camps in Lebanon and were moved to Northern Ireland as part of a UK-wide relocation scheme.

Up to 100 displaced people are expected.

Asylum seekers and those granted humanitarian protection can already avail of free English classes however, the policy does not apply to economic migrants.

Mr Farry said: “I believe it is in the public interest for government to do all in its power to help people who settle here to integrate into Northern Ireland society. The opportunity to learn English is, of course, critical in assisting asylum seekers and refugees to settle quickly and make a positive contribution to our economy and wider society.”

Costs for the new arrangements are estimated to be about £20,000 a year.

“Analysis indicates that demand for provision is relatively small so any additional costs will be affordable within the department’s budget.

“In this context, I am pleased to be able to extend this opportunity to all of those with refugee status.”