Swansea Council has marked the tenth anniversary of Swansea as a City of Sanctuary by planting a flower display. It was unveiled on 9 July 2020 by the Lord Mayor, Cllr Mark Childs, at a brief ceremony attended by Amber Esther, Swansea City of Sanctuary Co-Chair, and José Cifuentes, who came to Swansea in 1977 having been forced to leave his home Chile as a political refugee.
The design was by Thanuja Hettiarachchi, a committee member of Swansea City of Sanctuary, as a variant on the national City of Sanctuary logo based on two figures holding raised hands to form a shape a bit like a house, indicating welcome and safety. Thanuja has placed the two figures inside the zero of the figure 10, to mark the 10th anniversary. This was her reaction to the display:
“I was delighted to see the flower bed the Council planted. They have a real commitment to sanctuary. We have seen how our local authority have been careful to include asylum seekers and refugees in their efforts to support the whole population of Swansea during the lockdown. And it’s great that they want to be so public about it.
“I was very happy to see my design used and felt very proud. The red and green colours are the colours of Wales and I imagine the one in green ‘being a local person’ who is welcoming or supporting sanctuary seeker who are escaping from danger. It makes me think of support, unity and solidarity.
“At the moment not many people can see the display in person, but I hope they will at least see the pictures and the news and it might prod someone to find out more. Hopefully, people of this city will be encouraged to welcome people even more.
“In fact, since coming to Swansea four years ago I have never been made to feel different. As I got to know people, it felt like being in my own country, because people accept newcomers and are kind and welcoming. Everyone has wanted to do something. I don’t want to leave Swansea, or Wales, at all – it’s another paradise for us!”
Due to social distancing and limitations on numbers, Amber was the only City of Sanctuary representative actually present at the unveiling. This is what she had to say:
“As I was coming to the Civic Centre, it was lovely to see the City of Sanctuary sign right in front of me. You can see the flowers showing two people holding hands from the roadside. People going past will get the idea and come closer to have a proper look.
“I’ve been in Swansea for 8 years and involved with City of Sanctuary for most of that time. I felt proud to see that our efforts have paid off. There has been recognition from the Council and we can see we’ve been part of something bigger than just our group.
I was quite isolated when I first came to Swansea with my children, but once I got involved I learnt a lot. I have found out about my rights from being in City of Sanctuary. It helps give awareness to people like me, who can then go and give help to others. I have also volunteered at the African Community Centre and in my church. For example, I help with making breakfasts when the church houses the homeless shelter during the winter. Without City of Sanctuary and these other opportunities of getting involved I wouldn’t have become so confident.
Having these flowers here is a big achievement – for me it’s a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. It shows we can keep going on and making sure everyone who comes to Swansea feels safe and gets to be part of the city, as I have done.”
This flower display means a lot to people like Thanuja and Amber who have come to Swansea and have been made to feel welcome. They now want that to extend to everyone who comes here fleeing persecution and violence – and indeed, to everyone who comes to Swansea for whatever reason. Thanks are due to Swansea Council and particularly to Helen Clancy, Migration, Asylum Seeker and Refugee Coordinator, to Cllr Alyson Pugh, cabinet member for better communities.
Co-Chair of Swansea City of Sanctuary