A horticulture project started by Syrian refugees in Co Laois is expanding to Co Offaly.

Radwan Abouhajar and Mohammad Kadour set up the Syrian Gardening Project earlier this year at the National Learning Network centre in Portlaoise.

The pair took over two unused polytunnels at the back of the centre and began planting seeds that had come from their war-torn homeland.

"We are currently growing cucumber, beans, peas, radish, tomatoes, salad leaves, parsley, garlic, onions and spinach," said Mr Abouhajar, a father-of-two who came to Ireland in December 2014.

Radwan Abouhajar

"This project makes me feel I can produce, I can give and I can contribute. People here offered us help with so many things, like learning English and accommodation. So I feel it's up to us to give something back and contribute positively to society," he said.

Produce is distributed among the Syrian community in Portlaoise, which now numbers around 100 people.

"Radwan holds a BSC in Ag Science and Mohammad was a farmer in Syria - so they had the technical knowledge and practical ability to make this project a success," said Julie Scully from Laois Partnership Company.

Mohammad Kadour

"There is something both simple and profound in seeing tiny seeds from Syria grow into large healthy plants here in Ireland and hopefully this will reflect the experience of the Syrian community in Laois as they make Ireland their new home," Ms Scully added.

NLN Portlaoise said the project has gone "amazingly well".

"They are extremely resourceful and source all their own supplies. I think there are many avenues in our local communities to welcome different nationalities. I am delighted that we can do something small to support this great work," said centre manager Allan Boyle.

Mr Abouhajar, who works for Offaly Local Development Company, is working to establish similar polytunnel projects with the Syrian communities in Tullamore and Birr.

"Integration is the most important thing for refugees. Many of them have skills and expertise and they can put them to good use on projects like this," he said.

According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, more than two thirds of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries - Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Syria had a considerably higher number than any other country with 6.7 million, followed by Afghanistan with 2.7 million.

Today is World Refugee Day and UNHCR is urging people around the globe to "take a step in solidarity with refugees".