November 15th 2019, St Mary’s Church and Father Steven kindly allowed us to celebrate 4 years of HBTSR , to thank some of the people that we’ve not thanked before , to catch up with what we’ve done, to learn about progress with Wales Nation of Sanctuary and to hear what it is like to be a person seeking asylum.
We arrived at the tail end of a danceathon run by the Cafe for Children in Need which created some puzzlement as people arrived for our meeting. Once reassured people chatted and looked through information. We had raffle tickets for our Big Raffle that arrived the day before and our display boards. We are helping with the Detention Forum campaign challenging the UK’s use of immigration detention. We want to see a humane and fair immigration system, including a time limit on immigration detention and much wider use of community-based alternatives to detention, to stop the harm of immigration detention. It was good to have about 30 people with us and to see many new faces as well as ones that are well known.
Margaret started the meeting by welcoming people and outlining what we have done this year to welcome people, to give practical support and to help campaign for improvements. [ Please see below for the text of her speech] Then we were able to thank some of the people who have helped people seeking asylum. It was nice that they also wanted to thank us for what we do!
Our friend Otis who was taken into detention at Christmas last year had agreed to join our meeting and to speak about his experiences. He started by explaining that his first language is French and how handicapped he was initially by not being able to speak English and how he has only just been able to start regular lessons. He moved on to telling us about why he had to flee in fear of his life and how he ended up in Swansea. He told us about his experience of detention and how when he eventually was moved to a more public part of the detention centre that he saw his photo on TV. The officers had seen this and asked him how he was so famous and he said he had good friends and wasn’t forgotten. He thanked us for all that we do for him and others. Perhaps most important to people taken into detention is the knowledge that they are not forgotten and that there is always hope. It was his 40th Birthday the following day and we were able to give him a card and a small gift.
Kirsty Williams our AM gave us an update on progress with making Wales a Nation of Sanctuary . She said if a small area like ours can do so much then there is hope that Wales as a whole can become a truly welcoming nation. Progress is being made with Restart [ helping people with refugee status into work] improved access to ESOL, fighting destitution by using the discretionary monies councils have, improving housing and legal representation and continuing to lobby central government to alter policies that make asylum seeking even harder than it would otherwise be.
Overall the meeting was fascinating and moving and hopeful. Our small group has achieved big things and most importantly gives hope to some people who might otherwise feel hopeless- and that is just speaking for myself!
Here is a list of the people that we thanked
Powys County Council
For so wholeheartedly supporting the Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation Programme
For artistic support at Craig y Nos with people seeking sanctuary
For provision of sympathetic and supportive transport for people seeking sanctuary
For editorial help and encouragement without which we would not have so much favourable publicity
Jackie Charlton [ Llangattock community Woodlands]
For providing welcome days and support to people seeking sanctuary
For providing produce and welcoming people seeking sanctuary when they visit Brecon
Crannog Ceilidh band
For music, dance and songs at Welcome days
Archdeacon Griffiths Church In Wales Primary School
For supporting welcome days in Bronllys with generous donations of food and toiletries.
LLangynidr Primary School
for support at Welcome days, singing and providing gifts.
Places of Sanctuary
Abercynafon Farm for respite weekends
LLangorse Youth and Community Centre.
3rd March 2019 22nd November 2018 12th February 2018 April 2nd 2017 10th July 2016 January 24th 2016
Brecon Scout Hut
18th August 2019 19th August 2018 13th August 2017 17th April 2016
Hay-on-Wye School – Ysgol Y Gelli
27th January 2019
23rd June 2019 25th November 2018 13th may 2018 24th September 2017 5th March 2017
Llangynidr Village Hall And Recreation Ground
7th April 2019 15th April 2018
Too numerous to mention!
18th May 2019 29th October 2016
8th September 2019 24th June 2018 16th July 2017
Craig Y Nos Country Park
28th September 2019 9th June 2018 14th May 2017 2nd September 2016 5th April 2016
Royston Memorial Hall Bronllys
12th October 2019 14th October 2018 18th March 2017 15th October 2016
Talgarth Town FC
13th July 2019 30th July 2018 29th July 2017 30th July 2016
PGL Tregoyd House Adventure Centre
5th 6th 7th July 2019 6th 7th 8th July 2018
4th May 2019
Llangattock Community Woodlands many visits during 2019
6th November 2018 9th April 2018 November 2017 and continuing support and help
Ysgol Cradoc school
19th November 2017 29th January 2017
No-one wants to be a refugee. To leave home, family, job and security. Yet, worldwide, for 70 million men, women and children that is the sad reality of life for them. 80% of them find sanctuary in neighbouring countries; the others are dispersed around the world.
Europe – and in particular, the UK – only accept a small percentage of these. But I don’t want to dwell on statistics. For behind the numbers are people just like you and me; with hopes, fears and aspirations of their own.
But our society – especially the media – treat those seeking sanctuary in a very negative way. Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees – like so many other organisations – exists to counter this by providing opportunities to welcome and support those who have had to flee their homeland. Tonight, I would just like to give you an indication of what we actually do and how we work.
We are a registered charity with a membership of over 400 ; plus many more who follow us on social media. We meet monthly -at the rugby club in Talgarth – when we plan our many activities. These fall broadly into three categories: Creating a culture of hospitality, providing practical assistance and campaigning to try and influence key decision makers. That work is, of course, supplemented by necessary fundraising. So let me tell you briefly what we have done in the past year.
We have held 12 ‘Welcome Days’, bringing refugees and asylum seekers to this beautiful part of Wales, offering respite and friendship – not just from group members but also from local communities. Working closely with refugee support groups in Swansea, Newport and elsewhere, We pay for transport to bring 50 – 60 people from Swansea – families and single men and women – for a day of good food, relaxation and fun activities. We have also enabled small groups of people, from the Sanctuary, Newport, to spend 3 separate days enjoying themselves at the Alder Carr Llangattock Woodland.
Seven men and women from the Swansea drop in centres were hosted by our members so that they could experience the pleasures of being a volunteer stewards at the Hay Literary Festival. Something which our friend, Otis, might like to say a little more about later this evening.
Thanks to the generosity of one of our members who has a holiday cottage here in Brecon, we have – over the year supported families (21 adults and 30 children) to have a short holiday break. They really love our beautiful scenery,the close proximity of walks along the canal and playgrounds and the friendliness of the people they meet.
People seeking sanctuary are understandably very anxious about attending official hearings and so, alongside Swansea-based volunteers and friends, some of our members are available to accompany them. That companionship is very much appreciated by the person seeking sanctuary and it does seem that barristers and judges take note when people are supported in this way.
Thanks to grant funding, we were able to Project Get Together for the second year running.
This project was able to bring together up to 80 young people from the three South Wales cities and those in foster homes across south and west Wales ( both those who had lived in the UK all their lives and those seeking asylum/ refuge ) for a residential weekend of out-door activities run by PGL The aim of the weekend was to enable people to come together, join in interesting and enjoyable activities, and: *Feel welcome
*Find opportunities for friendship and solidarity *Learn to appreciate partnership and team working.
They also had the opportunity to meet with Kirsty Willians AM during the weekend. Needless to say, they all seemed to enjoy the event and friendships were forged across geographical areas.
Other activities have involved *Celebrate the contribution of people from other communities, cultures and countries facilitating a football match between a refugee team, the Kush Stars, and Talgarth football club. The right team won!
Liaising with Newport county football club for some free tickets to their matches – plus some to a match at Wembley – for members of The Sanctuary, Newport. Many of the them are now an integral part of the fan base of that team. It’s wonderful to see how a love of Football can break down barriers(Football is a great bridge across communities)
– Walking up the Skirrid with a group of sanctuary seekers as part of a national campaign to lift the ban that prevents asylum seekers from working whilst they await the results of the Tribunal – which often takes years, rather than months to resolve.
Ever since the group began four years ago, we have sent goods and money to help refugees in this country and overseas.
Donations of Clothing, bedding and household goods for the general public are received at three ‘drop off ‘ points in Hay, Brecon and Talgarth. The items are then sorted by our members and sent down to Swansea for sorting and distribution. Some are handed out locally whilst others are bagged up and sent off to Calais and refugee camps on the continent. We are also now developing links with a refugee and asylum seeker support centre in Caldicot so that we can also deliver goods to them.
We also have a system in place that passes on bikes, no longer required by their owners, to the drop in centres in Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. There the bikes are renovated by the refugees themselves, who learn valuable maintenance skills in the process before being given the bikes to keep. This is of enormous benefit to them as they only have less than £6 per day to live on – being mobile themselves means visiting friends and access to college course become much easier.
As well as paying for the coaches for Welcome Days, the Funds that we raise are passed to different groups and organisations that are working more directly with people seeking sanctuary. These include Swansea Asylum Seekers Support, The Sanctuary, Newport, Sharetawe (who find accommodation for those who are homeless) The Ethic Youth Support team.
We also administer a Hardship Fund. Working on information and advice form the workers at the drop in centres, we make monies available to help cover the purchase of nappies, feminine hygiene and men’s toiletries- all of them very expensive items to purchase. Increasingly this year, we have made money available to pay for bus passes to enable people to attend full time study at college – in particular, their English classes.
Other essential financial help has been given as required – full details will be found in our annual report, due in January.
One of our members gives of his time and expertise voluntarily, travelling down to one of the Swansea Drop in Centres each week to teach English and deliver goods.
We have highlighted injustices involving individuals, such as Otis who was summarily whisked into detention last Christmas time. We’ve also campaigned as mentioned earlier, to lift the ban on working whilst waiting for official refugee status. Currently we are participating in the campaign to end detention itself – which you will – I hope – have seen how you can help as you came in. If not, please do look on your way out. Britain is only country in Europe which detains people indefinitely; simply because they have sought sanctuary. Can you begin to imagine the feelings of people who having fled persecution now find themselves incarcerated not knowing for how long and living in fear of deportation?!
We have also met with political representatives to ask for their assistance – both with individual needs and campaigns.
I hope in this short presentation I’ve given you a flavour of the activity that lies behind the title HBTSR.
There is much more that I could say about our work but the best thing would be for you to subscribe – no cost involved- to our mailing list , or visit our website, Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter . That way you can find out in more detail what we actually do.
But before I finish, I want to pay tribute to the schools, communities, organisations, the supermarkets who donate food to our Welcome days and countless individuals who have enabled us to do all this. In the process, we have all found our own lives much enriched by the people – from many countries and different backgrounds – we have come to meet; and many individual friendships have been forged.
For no matter where we come from, we are all one people. Thank you.