Lockdown hasn’t prevented Swansea giving a proper welcome to asylum seekers and refugees. Hannah Sabatia, project coordinator for the ‘A Better Welcome to Swansea’ Project, was recently nominated as a community champion by Bethan Sayed MS, Member of the Senedd for South Wales West for her part in keeping the project – and the welcome – going during lockdown.
The project helps to welcome and support people seeing asylum and refuge in Swansea to reduce isolation, encourage active participation, promote wellbeing and enhance integration. It is run as a partnership between Swansea City of Sanctuary and Swansea Council for Voluntary Service (SCVS). It works together with a host of organisations supporting people seeking refuge and asylum, to form a network of support for this community of people who often have very high needs.
Hannah explained: “A Better Welcome to Swansea supports individuals by matching them with a volunteer mentor who, under normal circumstances, would meet them face-to-face and show them around the city, its services and information they can access.
“We also developed a group drop-in session to meet the needs of people seeking asylum and refuge living in Morriston area to enable them to access the same support as those able to travel to the city centre groups. Prior to lockdown, orientation Sessions have been held at various schools throughout Swansea where groups of parents who were seeking asylum or refuge received information on various services available as well as other things. This led to some schools of becoming or thinking of becoming a school of sanctuary.
“We have supported the HOP food bank. who were keen to offer culturally-friendly foods. Previous participants who then became volunteers for the scheme supported staff to raise awareness of the various food needs of different cultures. A link has been developed with Swansea University where they are keen for staff and volunteers with lived experience of seeking asylum to talk to students and staff to provide foundation knowledge for various courses including Globalisation and Interpretation courses.”
“Since March 2020, due to the Covid pandemic, our volunteers began offering telephone befriending to those referred for support. Participants receive a weekly or biweekly telephone call from their volunteer. Volunteers then update staff on how the call went and if any needs or concerns were identified. Staff and volunteers will signpost participants to other organisations as necessary. Project staff will help people find food, IT equipment, data, clothes and advice through the networks of organisations in the city.”
More than 200 persons seeking asylum, single or families have benefited from this kind of coordinated support with “A Better Welcome to Swansea” Project. Some interested in supporting others have even become volunteer mentors themselves.
The work of Hannah and the project volunteers was recently recognised by the Senedd where she was nominated as a community champion. The Senedd online gallery celebrated individuals, groups, key workers and businesses, who have done extraordinary things during Covid-19 to help the most vulnerable and keep communities together, describing Hannah as “a wise, caring and supportive individual”. The project was also mentioned on the ITV News.