It has been a difficult year for everyone but generous locals have come together to bring some Christmas cheer to people seeking asylum and refuge across Wales. Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees [HBTSR] contacted the villages and towns which had hosted one of its welcome days to ask if anyone wanted to give Christmas presents such as children’s gifts, biscuits, chocolate or toiletries and that these could be delivered to either Unity in Diversity Swansea [UID] or Penally camp in Pembrokeshire.
‘I started to realise that we had precipitated an avalanche of giving when I called to Hay school to pick up some gifts and had to return the following day as my car was over loaded,’ commented Lawrence Duffy Treasurer to HBTSR. ‘And not to be outdone Llangynidr School also donated a large number of gifts and Crickhowell High school made a donation of £250 from their Welsh Bacc students’ Charity fund. The students let us know that they were thinking of their refugee friends at this difficult time and hoped the donation would help’.
‘Then Llangorse Community Centre also got in touch to say they had a large number of gifts and Llangorse Church in Wales Primary school pupils made some beautiful Christmas cards whilst they thought about what it might be like to spend Christmas so far from home. It was an overwhelming response from the whole community‘
HBTSR has also given £500 each to Newport Sanctuary and to UID so organisers there can buy Christmas gifts and food for people seeking asylum.
‘Three individual trips were made by Jonnie Hill, Mac McCarthy and Sean o’Donoghue to Swansea with gifts that were particularly helpful for families and children. Indeed so many gifts were taken that organisers are planning to share them with other needy families in Swansea. In addition a large collection of new socks is being given to Homeless Hope a group offering footcare, food and clothes to homeless people in South Wales. It is always good to be able to help other people in need,’ Lawrence said.
Other supporters took gifts for the men housed in Penally army camp which was opened as Initial Asylum Accommodation in September . A number of groups have started to help welcome and support the 230 men now living there until alternative accommodation can be found.
Sylvia Perry from Brecon has made at least 3 trips since October to a group known as The Heart who set up a clothing depot giving choice of items to the men who often arrive in the camp with only the clothes they stand in. Sylvia has used her conservatory as a drop off point where goods can be dropped off ,stored and quarantined before being taken to Pembrokeshire.
Sylvia said ‘I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has donated the clothing and other things for Penally. I’ve taken them all to The Heart and replenished their stocks. Money donated by HBTSR was used to buy much needed underwear and socks as they had almost run out. So much great work is being done to make the lives of these young men better. The power of kindness in action in great to see’.
Another supporter Hilary Bright took a carload of games such as chess and draughts and musical instruments to the newly formed Pembrokeshire County of Sanctuary Group and supporter Roger Laidlaw sent some games with instructions translated into Arabic and other languages. ‘
These were all much appreciated ‘, said Ailsa Dunn secretary to HBTSR,’ The men are not allowed to work, are often afraid to leave the camp because of far right protests and are living in very dilapidated accommodation so music and games are a good way to pass time. The local support groups have arranged some day trips so the men can see the area and a bike pool has also been set up so they can have some exercise and freedom.Befriending links have also been set up to help the men to learn English and start the process of integration into the UK.’
Llangorse pupils’ cards and other gifts were delivered this week by Adil Gatrad. For Adil this journey was extra special as he came to the UK himself as a refugee in 1972 and has since worked both here and in America for the pharmaceutical industry. The Chair of Pembrokeshire County of Sanctuary wrote saying ‘Thank you so much for all the donations. The Heart are coming to collect the clothes on Saturday. The chocolates, games, puzzles etc are so, so welcome and will make such a difference to the men in the camp. We can’t thank you enough. So excited and grateful to be working with you.’
So as 2020 draws to a close, it is good to know that the generous spirit of welcome to strangers is still alive and well in Breconshire and that many people will have a happier Christmas than expected and may start the New Year knowing that at least in this part of the world there is support and hope.
Photos of the cards made by pupils at Llangorse school.