An article by Phil Broadhurst
(Shop Manager, Oxfam, Castle Street, Swansea)
What I like about the various initiatives in Swansea set up by local people to help welcome and support asylum seekers in the city is the air of positivity around it all.
This is not an anti-racist (though obviously it is!) or an anti-government (though sometimes it might be) campaign of dogma and depressed backs-to-the-wall resistance. This is a pro-active and positive statement of beliefs. It is not a political statement (though it can be) ; it is a simple message of welcome and friendship.
In this movement there are not “Local Campaigners and Asylum Seekers”. There are just friends and neighbours working together to improve their community.
Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group have been at the forefront of this, with their regular Drop-In centres on a Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. As you walk in to these Drop-Ins, there are often small pockets of people asking for advice on their asylum case, but mainly it’s just a centre where in one room children play while in another room their parents chat.
SBASSG also organise fantastic social events and opportunities for people to mix, often with the magic ingredient of foods from around the world.
Academics have spent a long time working out strategies to enable greater community cohesion… but all it really takes in all walks of life is the opportunity to have good food and interesting conversation… or just the chance to play together.
The simple idea of welcome and friendship is what lies behind the City Of Sanctuary initiative, which states : “City of Sanctuary is a national movement of local people, community groups, businesses and institutions united in a common wish to turn their city into a welcoming place for people seeking sanctuary from war or persecution. Swansea has offered a home to people who have lost their homes and families and we wish to celebrate the welcoming attitudes of Swansea people and organisations.”
It is not just about offering welcome and friendship; it is about celebrating that welcome and friendship, and saying : “This is the way life should be”. We are a community. There is, very much, a thing called community, and we want it to thrive.
I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture of a perfect paradise of Love and Welcome in Swansea. Undoubtedly there is a small section of the population which is vocal in its opposition to asylum seekers (and others who are less vocal). But, as the city’s mayor, Alan Lloyd said at the launch of the CARDS project : “We need to rise above those exceptions”.
The CARDS project (Co-ordinated Action for the Relief of Destitution in Swansea) is a sub-group of the City of Sanctuary. The idea of CARDS is that people can offer destitute asylum seekers a room for the night, or pay for a week’s bus pass, or give them a meal, or a day out. This would seem to be the most obviously “charitable” of the Swansea initiatives, and it is dealing with truly destitute individuals who are in need of charitable support. But again, all it’s really about is offering the hand of friendship.
I went to the official launch of CARDS in Swansea in the same week as I went to STREIC 25, a community play in Ammanford about the role of the Womens’ Support Groups in the Miners’ Strike. The similarities were clear; that sense of community I was talking about, and also the aspect of charity, but trying to get past the “embarrassing” (on both sides) aspect of charity by seeing it just as friendship offered, in the interests of the community as a whole.
It was interesting to hear one person say at the CARDS launch that she had originally got involved with SBASSG and Asylum Justice (a free legal advice service for asylum seekers) as a political gesture; a way of saying that she would not be complicit in the way destitute asylum seekers are treated in the UK. But now she sees how she herself has gained on a personal level from the offers of friendship she has given out.
Another woman spoke with incredulity about how a friend of hers from church was there one Sunday and gone the next, returned to the country from which she had fled. (“We never even had a chance to say goodbye.”)
Whether your inspiration begins as political or personal, supporting initiatives such as these is still about the very basic, and often laughed at, principles of peace, love and understanding.
These people in Swansea understand : Offering welcome and friendship to those in need helps build a community which is better for us all to live in.
A welcoming smile is a powerful tool in creating a better world!