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Syrian refugees yearn for home




Abir Wahish and daughter Ruby

Abir Wahish and
daughter Ruby

A PUBLIC meeting aimed at discussing plans to offer support to Syrian refugees due to arrive in the country was held at the Antioch Centre in Llanelli on Monday (May 16).

Organisations including Syria Sir Gar, Carmarthenshire County Council and Ethnic Youth Support Team (EYST) were in attendance.

Following an announcement from Carmarthenshire County Council that it will be hosting vulnerable people as part of a national Home Office initiative, the voluntary group Syria Sir Gar has formed to offer humanitarian support to the new arrivals.

Addressing the meeting Carmarthenshire County Council’s Head of Public Protection and Housing Robin Staines said: “The UK government agreed to assist 20,000 people coming to the UK, fleeing the war in Syria.

“Our council looked at the situation last September (2015) and we agreed to house sixty households. A household could be an individual or a family. If you break that down to a national quota, the council would be more than meeting their responsibilities as part of that response.

“Since September, we have been working and planning to put things into place.”

Mr Staines said the council had had a fantastic response form the public and voluntary sector across Carmarthenshire and had been planning for six months to put all the logistics in place.

Explaining how the Council would rehouse refugees, Mr Staines said that the council went out to tender for professional services to support the families and that they had chosen EYST based in Swansea.

He continued: “A number of provisions had to be put in place including Housing and Support provision, Bank Accounts, National Insurance Numbers, Biometric Identification and accommodation, which the council are finalising with private landlords.

“The properties are there and we have the support in place. The critical success of this will be the community and how the community opens its arms and welcomes those families in and gives them the support as I know the people of Llanelli will.”

Abir Wahish is a Syrian who has been resident in Carmarthenshire since 2006.

She gave a presentation on her homeland and decried media coverage of it. She claimed media reports were failing to show the rich history, beauty and strategic importance of the country. She said that she believed that this was a deliberate attempt at diverting attention away from the real issue, which was a possible land grab by other Middle Eastern counties, leaving Syrians without a country to go back to.

Speaking to The Herald after the meeting Abir said: “The media keeps showing a negative image of Syria. This is unfair and unjust. It is like they are trying to distract people from the real reason or knowing about the root causes of what is happening there.

“Syria is a wonderful country in a very important strategic location and probably there are people who are stealing this land. All the refugees are being pushed out. If there are no Syrians left, the land is up for grabs. If it were only a matter of a dictatorial regime and opposition to that regime, it would have been solved by now. I feel outside powers are trying to push it further.”

The Herald asked Abir what she would say to those who claim an influx of refugees will place a stress on local resources.

“It is important for people to know that most refugees will want to go back to Syria, which is a very beautiful country. It is important to help refugees keep ownership of their land in Syria, so they can return. I would like to ensure the land is safeguarded.

“I am very concerned that the Syrian people will end up like the Palestinians without the right to return. If you really want to help the Syrian people help them keep the ownership of Syria for the Syrians. It is an open place where people have co-existed. It is a peaceful place. There is no need to fear from the Syrian people. There is no need to fear that they will be taking your jobs. They want to go back and they will go back.”

Abir told The Herald that she had returned to Syria many times, even during the war.

“I go back to Syria every year. I didn’t stop going back. I went with my children and they went to school there. Every day I wake up and think, should I go back to Syria.

“I like it here but Syria is a beautiful country.

“My main message would be that I would welcome anyone with fears and concerns to talk and hopefully show that there is no need to fear anything. I would beg the media to stop destroying Syria and this country with their negative narrative. This meeting is a wonderful start.”

Abir explained: “I am not denying the destruction. People are suffering there from poverty, no currency, no jobs no electricity. They are being put in a pressure cooker. They have either been pushed out by force or they are being pushed out because they have nothing left to stay for. They are getting faith from their belonging to the land and from God. They believe that if they leave and go to another country their land will be stolen and that they will not be accepted and that they will be humiliated.”

In a final plea she said: “It is fantastic to see people giving clothes and teddies etc.; but in this democratic country, while you can, please help the Syrians politically to be able to go back to their country legally.”

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Llanelli becomes a Covid-19 ‘health protection zone’




RESIDENTS in a large part of Llanelli are being put under new local restrictions in a ‘health protection zone’ following a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in the area.

The town is seeing a concentrated spread of cases compared with other parts of Carmarthenshire – in the last seven days, 85 positive cases have been identified in Llanelli (151.6 per 100,000 of the population) compared to 24 cases in the rest of Carmarthenshire (18.1 per 100,000 of the population).*

Public Health Wales officials are expecting numbers to continue rising over the coming week.

Carmarthenshire County Council and Hywel Dda University Health Board have worked with the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales to agree the temporary restrictions at sub-county level to try and halt the spread of the virus.

As of 6pm on Saturday September 26, 2020, residents living in defined parts of Llanelli will not be able to visit anyone else’s home, or accept visitors into their home, unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ such as providing care for a vulnerable person.

They should not arrange to meet indoors with anyone who they don’t live with, and travel in and out of the ‘health protection zone’ will also be limited – people should not leave the area or travel into the area unless it is essential. Travelling in and out of the zone for a holiday is not considered a reasonable excuse.

People are being asked to wear face coverings anywhere where they cannot maintain a two-metre distance from other people, including collecting children from school, in addition to the rules which already require them to wear a face covering in indoor spaces like shops and on public transport.

All indoor and outdoor visits to residential care homes have also been suspended.

Students may still travel into and out of the ‘health protection zone’ to go to school or college.

People living in the defined area of Llanelli must work from home, and employers must take all reasonable steps to support staff to do so.

Indoor public spaces such as leisure centres should only be used by people living in the defined area.

Shops will remain open, but people living outside the defined area of Llanelli should avoid travelling to visit them and shop in their own locality wherever possible.

The specific wards covered in the defined area of Llanelli are:

  • Bigyn
  • Bynea
  • Dafen
  • Elli
  • Felinfoel
  • Glanymor
  • Hendy
  • Hengoed
  • Llangennech
  • Lliedi
  • Llwynhendy
  • Tyisha
  • Swiss Valley

Although the pattern of increased positive cases is overwhelmingly concentrated in the Llanelli area where the restrictions have been strengthened, the whole of Carmarthenshire has now been put on alert, with a warning that the tighter restrictions may be extended if cases continue to spread.

Everyone – including those in the defined areas of Llanelli – is being urged to follow the national guidance around social distancing, good hygiene, self-isolation, testing and face coverings.

Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “It is worrying to see how sharply the number of positive cases has risen in the Llanelli area, and action has had to be taken to help stop the spread and break the chain of infections concentrated in this area to prevent a whole county lockdown.

“We must all do the right thing, follow the advice and protect each other. In parts of Llanelli, we’re asking people and businesses to make even greater sacrifices – we fully appreciate the impact this will have, but there is no other way. We must stop the spread.”

A mobile testing unit has been set up in Llanelli to manage the increased demand by local residents who have any of the Covid-19 symptoms – either a high temperature, a change or loss to taste or smell or a new continuous cough.

Reporting of positive cases in the town is fully expected to rise during the next two weeks with the increase in more targeted testing. But this is a positive indicator that cases are being identified and control measures put in place.

Chair of Hywel Dda University Health Board Maria Battle said: “Our local community has given us such tremendous support during the past few months. To protect the health of our people, including the most vulnerable, and to ensure our NHS resources are available to provide people with the care they need; we need the help of our Llanelli population and wider community now more than ever before. Whilst hospital admissions have not yet increased again for COVID cases, we have seen a sharp rise in positive cases in the community, and in time this is likely to have an impact on hospital admissions. The very best way we can support each other and those we love, is to follow local restrictions, minimise our contacts, practice good hygiene and self-isolate and book a test if we have any COVID-19 symptoms.”

Increased testing capacity for residents in Llanelli is available by appointment at the following locations:

  • Parc y Scarlets Car Park B, accessed via Trostre Retail Park, in Llanelli
  • The Ty’r Nant site (next to KFC), Trostre, Llanelli
  • The Carmarthen showground (signposted in both directions off the A40)

There should be no reason for Llanelli residents to travel excessive distances for a test, as there will be tests available in Llanelli and Carmarthen. Tests should be booked via the UK Portal. Any Llanelli residents experiencing difficulty booking a test locally via the UK portal can instead email or by calling 0300 333 2222.

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Tir Coed build outdoor classroom for Cross Hands Primary





The local charity Tir Coed teamed up with Cross Hands Primary School to design and install a locally grown woodland shelter to enable primary school pupils to benefit from outdoor lessons-even when
the rain pours!

Last year Cross Hands Primary School received funding from Carmarthenshire is Kind for their intergenerational project. The project brought the schoolchildren together with older people in the community. Through intergenerational activities, everyone involved increases social connectedness, reduces social isolation, learns from one another and has a great time!

Before the lockdown, Tir Coed was contracted to lead a group mainly made up of parents from the school on a shelter-building course. The attendees would gain knowledge and skills and the children and the older people would be able to use the shelter, a third generation now included in this
fantastic project. The plans, however, had to change due to restrictions and in an effort to have it ready for the children when they returned to school, three intrepid Activity Leaders braved the wet August weather to build the beautiful shelter .

Studies have shown that being in the outdoors significantly reduces the risk of spreading the Corona Virus. With this addition to their already impressive outdoor area, it is hoped that more learning can
take place outside the classroom. Deputy Head, Emma Walters said, “It looks amazing! I am very impressed with the shelter and I cannot thank Tir Coed enough for organising this. Additional covered space in the outdoors will mean that we can take more learning into our lovely nature

If you would like to find out more about the work of Tir Coed or have a project you would like our help with you can contact Nancy, the Carmarthenshire Coordinator:

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Local sailor taking on virtual London marathon




A local sailor based in the Falkland Islands will be taking on the Virtual London Marathon this October to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.

Curtis Bowen, 24, from Llanelli, South Wales, was due to take on the London Marathon for SSAFA this April, but following the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown, the race was cancelled. 

Fortunately, the London Marathon team created the Virtual London Marathon in its place, allowing runners to take on the challenge virtually alongside thousands of other runners on the 4th October.

Curtis said: “It was a shame that the London Marathon couldn’t go ahead as planned in April, but I think it is amazing that I am still able to partake whilst being in the Falkland Islands. I’m the first person to ever run the London Marathon in the Falkland Islands.”  

Curtis is currently serving in the Royal Navy, as a Leading Supply Chain Logistician, and has served for four years. His Father also served in the Royal Navy for twenty-three years.

The live virtual event on Sunday 4th October will invite runners to run the London Marathon in their own way, joining up to 45,000 runners up and down the country – and across the world – in the virtual 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, The 40th Race.

Curtis decided to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity after being an avid supporter of the charity and being inspired by his Father, Andrew, who raised over £6,000 for SSAFA. 

I chose to run the London Marathon for SSAFA to challenge myself and raise awareness for a great cause. My younger brother sadly took his own life a couple of years ago and I know that SSAFA are there to support those struggling with their Mental Health. I want to raise as much money as I can to support those struggling within the Armed Forces community.”

“My Father was also supposed to be running the London Marathon this year, but will now be completing the challenge virtually, alongside my brother, Luke, 12,000km away in South Wales.”

If you would like to support Curtis, please visit

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