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Minister announces free English classes for refugees in Northern Ireland

Refugee Asylum Forum members at Stormont promoting the 5 Asks SAFER campaign

The Law Centre is delighted with Minister Farry’s announcement to ensure that all refugees in Northern Ireland can access English classes in further education colleges, free of charge.

Recognising the importance of English language skills for refugees, the Law Centre has long pressed for free classes. The journey has taken a while and we view today’s announcement as testament to the power of collective effort.

The Law Centre, NICRAS and Bryson Charitable Group first called for free English classes back in 2010.

DEL agreed to implement free English classes on a pilot basis from 2012. The following year, the Law Centre compiled detailed feedback from a range of voluntary and community organisations and made the case for extending the scheme to all refugees.

This call has reverberated ever since, with a wide number of organisations, agencies and MLAs highlighting the importance of free English classes. The Refugee and Asylum Forum made English classes one of its Five Actions in its SAFER campaign in 2015.  We were so pleased when the campaign gained backing from Belfast City Council and then from many MLAs during a Northern Ireland Assembly debate. The Equality Commission and OFMDFM also lent their support.

The Law Centre would like to say a big thank you to Minister Farry and DEL officials for today’s announcement.

We have no doubt that this change in policy – while relatively small in budget terms – will make a huge difference to the lives of refugees in Northern Ireland.

Photo: Members of the Refugee Asylum Forum on the steps of Stormont last year, promoting the SAFER campaign, including request for free English classes.

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