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Messi. No, Ronaldo. Rubbish. Hazzard is the best, but he needs to move to a bigger team.

It’s a hot topic of debate amongst the small Syrian community in Newry and Mourne.

Who is the best footballer in the world?

It’s subjective.

But it dominates the discussion minutes before 16 footballers of middle eastern background take to the indoor pitch at the impressive new facility. The guys meet each week in Newry Leisure Centre for an hour-long kickabout.

Upstairs, the female members of each family are taking cookery lessons.

It’s part of a Council initiative to help new members of our community integrate, make them feel welcome, and to signpost the services available to them.

Caption.
Ready for a game of football at Newry Leisure Centre.

“It ties in with our Good Relations programme, building positive relationships amongst different communities,” says Taucher Murphy, DEA co-ordinator with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

“To do that, you have to build capacity first so people are comfortable fitting in and engage. “We want people to understand that the leisure centres here are for everyone.

“It's about getting people more comfortable with the different services available, explaining how to use them, how to connect to them, that sort of thing.”

The Council is a leading light in welcoming and integrating new members to the community. Last week, it facilitated an event bringing Syrian families together to advise what services are available to them. English language classes for ethnic minority classes have also been provided by the Council.

Caption
Ahlam and her sons Adam and Yousef

It’s welcomed and appreciated.

Mum-of-four Ahlam, 31, has been living in Newry for seven years.

She has a 13-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old son, and two five-year-old twins. Double trouble.

She fled Syria because of the war.

“I feel very comfortable living here - all the people are friendly and we have been made feel welcome,” says Ahlam.

“My children have made many friends. My family is still in Syria. It was very hard to remain in contact with them. A year ago I couldn’t contact them because of poor internet, but now it is not so bad as I can contact them, but it’s poor quality.”

Adam, from Syria, has been living in Newry for almost four years.

“I like it,” he says.

“I have been made feel welcome.”

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