Over 120 people came to the Welsh Refugee Coalition’s event in the Senedd on 10th December, International Human Rights Day. A powerful partnership of refugees, friends, organisations and Assembly Members talked about how we can make Wales the World’s first Nation of Sanctuary.
Co-Chair Betty said that every refugee arriving in Wales “is escaping fear, and has a dream.
If we can make this country a place of safety and welcome, we have a chance to make that dream come true”
Rocio, Director of Ethnic Youth Support Team in Swansea, talked powerfully about her life as a refugee forced to flee Chile, and her journey to Swansea and to Cambridge University. She called for a Nation of Sanctuary where all refugees can contribute to a prosperous and thriving Wales.
AA, an asylum seeker from Syria, spoke about the hazardous journey that she and her young son took in trying to find safety. She chillingly told us: “If I had stayed in Damascus for any longer, that could have been my son dead on the beach like Aylan Kurdi”.
Another asylum seeker, Amber, talked about the enforced destitution of asylum seekers, and her fears of the punitive Immigration Bill currently going through the UK Parliament, “I am terrified that my children will be on the street. What will happen to me?”
We heard about the simple acts that we can all take to make Wales a better place for asylum seekers and refugees. Aliya, a refugee from Iraq, shared her story of first arriving in Swansea, feeling isolated and lonely. “I felt so much better when my neighbor said ‘Hello’ to me. I felt like I was walking on the moon”.
Elinor from City of Sanctuary called for us all to go further and “have the challenging conversations with someone who you know who doesn’t agree with you.”
Mike, from Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees, talked about how the group are offering “respite sanctuary that will give people a day out, a day in our beautiful countryside. A day to share music, children’s games, conversations, friendship, food and dance from our different cultures.”
An interesting and lively panel with William Powell, AM Liberal Democrats, John Griffiths, AM Labour, Ian Johnson, Vale of Glamorgan Councillor and Plaid Cymru Head of Policy and Ross England, prospective AM Conservatives gave a great opportunity to put the Nation of Sanctuary at the heart of Welsh politics. Liberal Democrats and Plaid both agreed to take forward a Migration Strategy for Wales, and to look into how to set up a fund for asylum seekers made destitute. We will be following up on these conversations with political parties to secure commitments that are outlined in the Welsh Refugee Coalition’s briefing.
Over thirty asylum seekers and refugees took the platform of the Senedd, showing that they belong and are welcome at the very heart of Wales. In the words of Abdalla, a refugee from Sudan, asylum seekers and refugees’ voices must be heard.
Let’s listen, and make Wales a Nation of Sanctuary.