Freedom of Information requests submitted to the Housing Executive in 2019 revealed that there were over 100 Syrian families resettled in Belfast under the Home Office’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, overseen by the Department for Communities.
The Housing Executive is responsible for rehousing these families safely but it does not use social housing – the families are placed by the Housing Executive in private landlord accommodation and landlords are compensated at the expense of the Home Office.
The information we received from the Housing Executive showed that it did not disperse Syrian refugees evenly across Belfast’s 20 Housing Need Assessment areas.
Instead, the Housing Executive placed a large percentage of the families in private landlord accommodation in areas of high housing demand and a chronic shortage of social housing supply – mainly, predominately Catholic areas.
Belfast’s housing system also experiences acute religious inequality in housing provision overwhelmingly impacting Catholic families in North and West Belfast.
The top four areas of placement for Syrian refugee families in 2019 – N Belfast 1, Middle W Belfast, Inner W Belfast and Outer W Belfast – are predominately Catholic and were also the four Belfast HNA areas with the highest residual need (shortage) of social housing.
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In May 2021, the picture was very similar. Of the 119 Syrian families resettled in Belfast, over 90 had been placed in the same four predominately Catholic HNA areas – N Belfast 1, Middle W Belfast, Inner W Belfast and Outer W Belfast – which continued to face the greatest shortfall of social housing in the city.
The other Syrian families were placed across six of the city’s 20 HNA areas.
We are concerned that the Department for Communities and Housing Executive are de-facto enabling a housing policy in the City of Belfast which embeds ‘no-go areas’ for refugees and concentrates them in specific areas with multiple deprivations.
In addition, we are concerned that the deliberate placing of vulnerable refugee families in private rental accommodation in deprived areas with high housing demand – in which deprivation also manifests in severe housing shortage, housing stress and homelessness – places additional stress on them and potentially impedes their integration.
The Executive Office’s proposed draft strategy on refugee integration includes a call to “enhance engagement with the Home Office, PSNI, NIHE and other relevant agencies to ensure housing provided to asylum seekers by the Home Office under the Asylum Accommodation and Support Contract (AASC) is safe and secure”. It does not mention the current policy of concentrating refugee families in predominately Catholic areas of high need, and does not explicitly address racist or sectarian intimidation, violence or territorial claims head on. Consultation on the draft strategy closes on 20 February 2022.