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‘Refugee Wales’, people like us

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Aberaid fundraiser: Hosted in Ceredigion Museum

Aberaid fundraiser: Hosted in Ceredigion Museum

THE REFUGEE WALES exhibition opened at Ceredigion Museum last Friday evening (Jul 8). The opening event included stories and songs from a number of local artists, including Sue Jones-Davies, story-teller Peter Stevenson, and, of course, Côr Gobaith. Issa Farfour, one of the refugees involved in the project, played the darabuka, a goblet shaped drum found mainly in the Middle East and North Africa. 

Food was provided by Medina, the Aberystwyth restaurant and take-away with a growing reputation for delicious and imaginative cuisine.

Refugee Wales was developed by Cardiff’s refugee and asylum seeker centre, Oasis. It launched at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff on June 2 and will be at Ceredigion Museum until August 28. It then moves on to Wrexham Library where it will be on display from September 7 until October 22.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Refugee Wales is the final stage of a two year project. It shares personal stories to raise awareness of the lives of people who are living in Wales as refugees or asylum seekers.

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS 

Since the project began in December 2014, 25 participants have interviewed other refugees and asylum seekers, as well being involved in transcribing, producing text, photos and video. The project has involved both men and women living in Wales with refugee or asylum seeking status. Participants come from countries ranging from Eritrea to Syria and Sudan. The main aim of the exhibition is to get refugees’ stories heard while giving the participants new and useful skills. Oasis hope that he project will also further the cause of integration and solidarity.

Reynette Roberts, Director of Oasis Cardiff, said: “Many people in Wales have never met someone who is a refugee or asylum seeker. This touring exhibition is exciting because the stories are being shared in accessible public venues. If everyone can listen to these stories, it will help break down the barriers between refugee communities and the rest of Wales.”

The pop-up exhibition, designed with Cardiff-based firm Semaphore Display, includes audio clips, digital stories and hands-on activities, all of which give visitors an insight into what life is like for people seeking sanctuary.

Owain Rhys from National Museum Wales said: “This project has produced an invaluable archive about one of the most important stories of our time. It is so important to give a voice to people who would otherwise not be heard.”

HAPPY AND SAD STORIES 

The exhibition features a mixture of happy and sad stories.

Project coordinator Mari Lowe says: “Some of them have things from their pasts which haunt them. Some people have spent the last few months or even the last few years on a really horrific journey. But there’s so much going on that’s positive, too.”

Mari hopes that people who have negative views about refugees, asylum seekers and immigration will attend the exhibition, seeking more information. She hopes it will it change some people’s minds and make them respond differently towards refugees. “That’s the hope: if people come to the exhibition and then meet an asylum seeker, maybe they’ll think of the story he or she has.”

The exhibition presents some of the vital facts and figures about asylum seekers and refugees in Wales. For instance, it was not until 2001 that Wales became a ‘dispersal area’ for asylum seekers. At the end of October 2015, there were around 2,832 people living in dispersal accommodation in Wales. Refugee Wales combines this kind of, often poorly understood or misrepresented, information with the stories of real people.

Explaining why she can’t go home, one woman asylum seeker narrates: “I joined a certain group in Malawi. I was supporting lesbians and gays. In Malawi it was prohibited… When the Malawian government heard that I’m doing that, we were in threat.” This woman now lives in Wales with the fear that her asylum application will be refused. There are a number of equally moving but always diverse stories in the exhibition.

A panel from one contributor poses the question: “Can you imagine starting again from scratch?” The visitor is then asked which three things from home they would pack in a rucksack if that was all that it was possible to take. The impact of the exhibition depends on visitors engaging seriously with such questions. If they do so, Refugee Wales

is truly unsettling. One highlight of the exhibition is two prints by the artist Gideon Summerfield. These manage to portray at once the scale of the problem of displacement, the sheer number of people, and also the intimate plight of individual human-beings among the masses.

THE COLISEUM, A TRULY PUBLIC BUILDING 

Speaking after Friday night’s opening of Refugee Wales in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion Museum’s Assistant Curator, Alice Briggs, told the Herald: “Issa Farfour, who is now studying journalism at Cardiff University, was fantastic on the darabuka. It was really mesmerising to hear it in the Coliseum. One of the other volunteers from Oasis, Hussam Allaham, a former doctor, also told a bit of his story and how he ended up in Cardiff, which was also very powerful. I was particularly moved by him asking the audience to imagine that this building won’t be here tomorrow, and that most of the people in this room will not be here tomorrow, and that’s what it was like for him in Syria before he left.”

Working as a refugee support worker, Hussam Allaham is studying for his IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam so he can practice medicine again.

Over the last year, Ceredigion Museum has opened up its Coliseum building to two large fundraising evenings for refugees and has also served as a collection point for Rum Aid and Aberaid donations to go to refugees. The Coliseum is one of the oldest community buildings in Aberystwyth and has a great history of providing space for people’s campaigns.

During the First World War, for instance, a fundraiser was held to support refugees from Belgium. Over the last century, the Coliseum has also hosted a number of prominent speakers including Lloyd George and Emmeline Pankhurst. Museum staff are proud that the building is still being used for people to participate in dialogue about our communities, politics and society.

Alice Briggs concluded: “As a museum we feel our role is not be passive in our interpretation of history, but to question, and to use the knowledge of the past, of which we are guardians, to help institute change.”

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Llanelli High Street shortlisted for prize

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LLANELLI HIGH STREET has been shortlisted in the Government’s Great British High Street Awards, in proud partnership with Visa, putting them in the running for up to £15,000.

After a rigorous selection process led by a panel of independent judges, the high street has been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, which celebrates high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify.

The bid by Ymlaen Llanelli follows research commissioned by Visa in April 2019 demonstrating the positive impact that the local high street has on communities. The research found that nearly three quarters of consumers (71%) in Wales say that shopping locally makes them feel happy, with nearly half (45%) citing supporting local shops and knowing where their money is going as the main reason. Spending time with friends and family (25%) and offering a sense of community (18%) were other reasons cited for why high streets make people feel happier. The research also reveals that half of consumers (50%) feel that their high street gives them a sense of pride in their local community.

High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said: “Congratulations to Llanelli for being shortlisted for the Rising Star Award for this year’s Great British High Street Awards.

“Llanelli high street is a hive of activity, with food festivals, childrens’ days and community get-togethers all part of the local calendar. A great example of how high streets can bring a renewed energy to communities.

“People are happier when they can see their hard-earned cash support local businesses. That is why we are celebrating those that go above and beyond to keep their high streets thriving for generations to come.”

Sundeep Kaur, Head of UK & Ireland Merchant Services at Visa, added: “We’ve seen some fantastic entries for this year’s Great British High Street Awards across both the Champion High Street and Rising Star categories. In particular, the desire to innovate stands out amongst this year’s entries, with high streets adapting to the challenges presented by a rapidly changing retail environment to find ways to thrive at a local level.

“As our research shows, high streets play a vital role at the heart of communities, so this is a great opportunity for those communities with shortlisted high streets to show their support by placing their votes on the Great British High Street website.”

Llanelli High Street is one of the 28 high streets that have been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, identifying high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify. 12 high streets have been shortlisted in the Champion High Street category, which recognises the UK’s best high streets. All 40 high streets are now in the running to win a prize of up to £15,000 to be dedicated to a local high street initiative.

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Head Teacher at Primary school in Llanelli suspended

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THE HEAD TEACHER of a Welsh primary school has been suspended, it has been confirmed.

Catherine Lloyd-Jenkins, who is head at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes in Llanelli, has been suspended from her duties at the school with immediate effect.

Governors at the school have been unavailable for comment, but Carmarthenshire Council confirmed the news this morning.

It is understood that the chair of the governing body is currently out of the country, and the council would not comment further on the circumstances surrounding the suspension.

The council’s director of education, Gareth Morgans, said: “School staffing is a matter for the Governing Body, however, we can confirm the headteacher of Ysgol Ffwrnes has been suspended.

“It is not appropriate to comment further.”

Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has worked at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes for 23 years, taking up a post at the school in 1996.

She has been the headteacher there for almost 20 years, taking over the role in 2000. She has also worked as a peer inspector at Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales confirmed.

According to one local councillor, ‘serious concerns’ have been raised about the school in recent months.

“Local residents and parents have approached us raising serious concerns about the school in question,” said Carmarthenshire councillor Rob James.

“We are in dialogue with senior council officers to assert whether the allegations are credible and what action the council and governors have taken in response to these allegations.”

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Dyfed-Powys Police numbers at record low, say Labour

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POLICE officers based across the Dyfed-Powys area are now at their lowest levels in the last decade, with over 300 officers being lost across the region, claim Carmarthenshire Labour.

According to a freedom of information request by Carmarthenshire Labour, police officers based across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion are down 42% and are at record lows in both Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

The figures published by Dyfed-Powys Police show that Carmarthenshire has lost 160 officers in the last ten years, Pembrokeshire is down 107 officers and Ceredigion has lost 56 bobbies on the beat.

These figures come off the back of a poor report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that shows the force has gone backwards in the last year, with crime also on the increase.

HMIC’s recent PEEL (Police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) report noted concerns about Dyfed-Powys Police’s performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime and specifically warned of failures to assess all incidents of domestic abuse.

Carmarthenshire Labour Leader Cllr Rob James claims that the figures show that the current Police and Crime Commissioner is now performing worse than their predecessor.

Rob James stated: “These figures that show a dramatic decrease in police numbers are extremely worrying and reinforce what communities are saying across Dyfed Powys – there are simply not enough police officers in our areas.

“The fact that we now have lower police numbers in the three counties compared to the end of the last Police and Crime Commissioner’s term with crime now on the rise illustrates that the Plaid Cymru Commissioner is failing in his duty to protect our communities.

“We need urgent action to make our communities safe once more, as there is a clear link between the loss of youth provision and cuts to officer numbers, and the rise of crime in our communities.

“There is little evidence that our Commissioner has grasped the nettle over the last three years in tackling this important issue.”

These claims however, have been slapped down by Police and Crime Comissioner, Dafydd Llewellyn. He said that said that Cllr James had misunderstood or misrepresented the information provided to him.
The Carmarthen data have a significant rider attached to them.

The explanatory note reads: ‘It should be noted that the figures for Carmarthenshire police division between 2008 and 2018 are not comparable as the structure of Carmarthenshire division in 2018 has altered to that of 2008 which has impacted upon the figures provided’.

That explanation is expanded upon concerning the Ceredigion data. Regarding them, an explanatory note warns that: ‘[T]he structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded divisionally now come under the HQ remit, e.g. the Road Policing Unit, CID, etc.’.

Dafydd Llewelyn pointed out that note in his response to The Herald: “As outlined in the response to the Freedom of Information request, structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded as divisionally based are now recorded under the HQ remit, for example, Roads Policing Unit, CID.”

Dafydd Llewelyn continued: “Since taking up my role as the elected person to represent the many communities across the four counties served by the force, I have increased the overall resource available by 4%. I have ploughed funding into dedicated teams to support front line officers and have invested in resources to support the most vulnerable in our communities.

“I have commissioned services specific to their needs – be that as victims of domestic abuse or young people choosing to leave their homes for reasons unknown to authorities. I will continue to do this. I will not be held to account by numbers on paper alone, but by the difference I can make to individuals’ quality of life.

“I will also use the opportunity I have to campaign for services appropriate to the very specific needs an area the size of Dyfed-Powys Police has and will work with the force to adapt according to those needs.”

He concluded by pointing out: “Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys remain the safest counties nationally and I’m proud to be driving a service that is willing and able to flex and respond, despite the financial challenges faced day-in-day-out.”

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