In September 2015 a group of people met in a cafe in Hay. We were outraged to be watching people die in the Mediterranean and that in the months leading up to the death of little Alan Kurdi the media had been full of dehumanising stories about ‘illegal migrants’ ‘swarming’ to come to our shores.
Thankfully, there was a dramatic upturn in international concern over the refugee crisis with that sad death and a much more appropriate response of ‘how can we help?’ prevailed. In the UK the Syrian Resettlement Programme started, (although it benefited only a relatively small number of people- 20.000 over 5 years ] and there was an outpouring of support. In our area, Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees [HBTSR] was set up with the aims of helping to welcome and support people seeking sanctuary.
Over the last 5 years we have held over 50 ‘Welcome Days when local people and people seeking sanctuary have a chance to meet, chat, eat, relax, have a lovely day in many parts of our beautiful area and understand that we all want the best for our families and have a great deal in common. We have collected tons of clothing, household goods ,many bikes, sewing machines and laptops which have been given to people seeking sanctuary in South Wales and those in refugee camps.
Since ‘lockdown’ our usual activities have been curtailed and yet we still wanted to show people that they are welcome members of our society and do what we can to help and support them and their local supporters who often feel beleaguered and alone too.
WE’ve not been able to either collect, store or pass on clothes and household items during the last 6 months as all of the asylum drop in centres in the south Wales cities are closed but we have been able to help individuals and groups that are visiting people at home. We have helped to buy phone tops [so people have been able to continue to access family, friends and their education] bought lap tops, tablets and even a couple of smart phones [ so people can continue to study or keep up with school work] , helped to provide bikes[ so people can travel without using public transport] helped to buy clothing, shoes, nappies, hand sanitiser and face masks.
We’ve also helped Sharetawe by accommodating and supporting a destitute asylum seeking man with the enormous help of people who have donated accommodation, food, equipment and friendship. He says for the whole period he has been seeking asylum he’d never felt that he had friends until now.
We’ve paid for all of these things with the help of generous donations from supporters, a grant from Community Foundation Wales Corona virus resilience fund and also the Gibbs family trust, Treberfydd Gardens and also by making and selling handmade cloth Face masks.
Recently, Tools for Self Reliance gave us 4 sewing machines and we took these along with another 3 that had been donated as well as some material to Newport Sanctuary. Two of our supporters also went to demonstrate how to make cloth facemasks. Now, Newport Sanctuary asylum seekers can make masks for people in need and possibly also sell them for their funds.
We have continued activism in signing petitions, asking our political representatives for help with various matters such as
Legal routes to safety for people, especially unaccompanied children, who are in Europe and want to join family in the UK [Imagine living somewhere where your home and all your possessions have been destroyed, you may have lost much loved members of your own family, you have no money and no means of earning any whether or not you have a professional training, and you may have young children for whom you are desperate to try to find a better future. Is it unreasonable to want to escape? You have family members in UK would you want to join them or stay in France ? – We have tried repeatedly to seek continuation of the Dubs agreement whereby children with family in the UK can be reunited and have also asked for other safe routes to avoid what we are now seeing with people trying to cross the channel in leaky dinghies.] We now know that a Sudanese child died making this journey in the last week which highlights further the danger of not having a timely safe route to seek asylum.
Detention [ imagine being stuck in a prison like environment when you have done nothing wrong , don’t know how long you’ll be there and have no ability to self isolate, sanitise and that’s the reality for people seeking asylum who are taken into immigration detention. Some were released by the end of March]
Shared accommodation [ imagine having to share a room with unrelated strangers at a time when all the information is about isolating and staying safe -there are limited reassurances that room sharing is being phased out ]
An increase in the asylum support grant [people seeking asylum were living on £37.75 a week and sadly the government increased the grant to cope with the added expense of Covid19 to only £39.80]
We have also supported Black Lives Matter campaigns.
and If you want to see more about any of these matters then please look at https://hbtsr.cityofsanctuary.org/ and if you are interested in joining us or giving us money to keep things going to have any queries please don’t hesitate to email on [email protected]