City of Sanctuary and the British Red Cross organised an online event to highlight the experiences and challenges faced by people seeking sanctuary during the coronavirus pandemic. The event hosted by refugees was organised as part of celebrating Refugee Week, which is in its 150th year. The theme for Refugee Week 2020 is Imagine.
People seeking sanctuary in the UK face many challenges – including destitution, being separated from loved ones, and challenges accessing things like housing, work, and education and these have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The Red Cross and City of Sanctuary worked closely with the VOICES Network and Sanctuary Ambassadors from across the City of Sanctuary network to provide an online platform for refugees to come together and share their life experiences of seeking sanctuary in Wales. VOICES and Sanctuary Ambassadors are experts-by-experience in asylum and migration. The group who came together to mark Refugee Week, had undertaken a Sanctuary in Politics Course last November, which was facilitated in partnership by City of Sanctuary UK and British Red Cross.
The virtual event was hosted by John Griffiths, Member of the Senedd for Newport East, on the theme of “Imagine the potential of Wales as a true Nation of Sanctuary”.
John Griffiths said: “It was a real privilege to host this event and it was moving to hear experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in Wales. We have a proud history of support in Wales and I’m pleased our Deputy Minister Jane Hutt and Welsh Government have been taking important steps in both education and employment to continue this tradition.”
It has been over a year since the Nation of Sanctuary plan was published by Welsh Government which means this Refugee Week was particularly important to reflect on the plan and look ahead at what work still needs to be done. The session was an opportunity for the Ambassadors to raise issues that affect them and be heard by Welsh Government, Members of the Senedd and policy makers in Wales.
Ambassadors shared their thoughts and experiences of what it’s like to be a refugee or person seeking sanctuary in Wales. The panel heard about their experiences of arriving in Wales and challenges they face in accessing work or education.
Godwin Akinyele, the VOICES Ambassador who chaired the event, is a Wrexham-based sanctuary seeker, writer and a volunteer caseworker for British Red Cross Refugee Services who was recently recognised with the High Sheriff of Clwyd Award for supporting refugee families in Wales. He said: ‘This event is a confirmation that Sanctuary seekers occupy a very special place in the heart of the Welsh government and people.
‘Together, we shall move this land forward, and make it a place where everyone calls true home, where everyone flourishes and a great example among its equals. Just imagine that… if you could, then it’s achievable.”