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‘Refugee Wales’, people like us

Jon Coles

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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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New children’s play area in Bryn as part of new council housing development

Carli Newell

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A NEW children’s play area has opened in time for the summer holidays in Bryn, Llanelli as part of a new £5.9million council housing development.

Carmarthenshire County Council is building 32 new homes on land close to the Dylan housing estate in Bryn.

The scheme will be made up of 22 two-bedroom homes, four two-bedroom bungalows and six four-bedroom homes and is part of the council’s ongoing drive to deliver more affordable homes across the county. It has been part funded through the Welsh Government’s Affordable Housing Grant.

The development also includes a new children’s play area, funded by the council in partnership with Llanelli Rural Council, which will take over the running and maintenance of the play area on completion.

Executive Board Member for Housing Cllr Linda Evans said: “I am delighted the park has been completed in time for the summer holidays for the local children to enjoy.

“We are committed to delivering more affordable housing across Carmarthenshire and this development will benefit dozens of families in Llanelli, as well as proving much needed facilities for the local community.

“I would like to thank the rural council for collaborating with this us on this and I hope the children are thrilled with it.”

Before designing the play area, the rural council liaised with local schoolchildren to find out what play equipment they wanted at their new park.

Llanelli Rural Council Chairman Cllr Tegwen Devichand said: “The council is delighted to be working in partnership with Carmarthenshire County Council to provide this wonderful new play area for the community.

“The opening of the play area couldn’t have been better timed to coincide with the school holidays. I hope the local children will enjoy the range of challenging play equipment on offer and that they have lots of fun using it over the summer.”

The housing development is due to be completed by the beginning of 2022.

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Burry Port Harbour lighthouse overhaul tops council’s £2million investment

Carli Newell

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A £2MILLION investment in Burry Port Harbour is nearing completion, topped off with the iconic lighthouse getting a fresh lick of paint.

Carmarthenshire County Council is behind a range of improvements to maintain and restore the historic harbour which is one of the county’s most loved and well visited beauty spots.

Restoration of the Grade II listed harbour walls, undertaken under the guidance of CADW, will conclude within the next few weeks.

The council has also been working alongside The Marine Group, which operates the harbour, to improve mooring facilities. They are working closely with fishermen to bid for funding for new commercial pontoon infrastructure.

It will add to investment made over previous years which saw the council spend almost £1.5million on new pontoons, and over £300,000 in maintaining the harbour railings and bridge.

A local operator has agreed a lease for a cafe and public toilets on east side of Harbour, and the refurbishment of the old RNLI harbour office has recently started by The Marine Group (TMG) to create a harbour-side coffee house.

TMG has also invested in a state-of-the-art dredger which arrived at the harbour last autumn. Dredging is well underway and will continue until targeted depths are reached.

Boat lifting equipment and new fuelling points are also planned.

The council has introduced community safety officers to patrol the harbour assisting tourists and local people during the summer months, especially to advise around Covid regulations, as part of a tourism hotspot plan to take care of issues such as parking, litter, street cleansing, enforcement and signage.

Temporary car parking surfacing has also been laid on the east side along with new pay and display facilities ahead of a wider multi-million regeneration plan that will transform the harbour with a mix of housing, commercial and leisure space covering around 13 acres of prime development site.

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “We are proud of our continued investment in Burry Port Harbour. We are spending millions restoring and maintaining historic features that are much-loved by local people and visitors who come from far and wide to enjoy what the harbour has to offer.

“We continue to work closely alongside The Marine Group and Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council to plan and prioritise works and ongoing maintenance. We are as keen as everyone else to ensure it is well-maintained and continues to be a place people can enjoy.

“We appreciate that there has been some upheaval during these improvement works but we ask people to understand that our investment will make Burry Port Harbour an even better place for the future.”

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Government ban on knives, firearms and offensive weapons has come into force across Wales

Carli Newell

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A TOUGH ban on a wide range of knives, weapons, and specific firearms comes into force on Wednesday (July 14) as part of Government action to tackle violent crime and serious violence.

Cyclone knives, spiral knives and ‘rapid-fire’ rifles are among those covered by the ban, all of which have been associated with serious violence in communities across the country.

A new legal definition of flick knives, banned since 1959, also takes effect, resulting in more of these bladed weapons being outlawed.

All weapons banned in public by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, including zombie knives, shuriken or death stars and knuckledusters, will now also be banned in private, meaning people can no longer keep them at home.

Anyone unlawfully possessing a firearm covered by the ban will face up to 10 years in prison and those possessing one of the other weapons can be sentenced to up to six months imprisonment or a fine or both.

Assistant Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett said: “The harm caused to families and communities through the tragic loss of life relating to knife crime is devastating and that is why focusing on this issue remains a top priority for policing.

“We welcome the changes to legislation being introduced by the Offensive Weapons Act. These measures will help officers to seize more dangerous weapons, deal with those intent on using them to cause harm and suffering, and crucially, make it more difficult for young people to get hold of knives and other dangerous items in the first place.

“Knife crime is not something that can be solved by policing alone. We are working closely with partners and with groups such schools and businesses to educate young people and explain why carrying a knife is never the right choice. This early intervention plays a vitally important role in stopping young people from turning to a life of crime.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “There is no place in our society for violent crime and harm caused by such knives and firearms. Lives have been lost through serious violence, and this ban will help save lives by getting more knives and other weapons off the streets and out of the hands of violent criminals.

“The human suffering and hurt caused by the tragic loss of life through violent crime is unacceptable, which is why the Government will stop at nothing to give the police the powers needed to stop violent crime and protect the public.

“From today, anyone possessing one of these deadly weapons unlawfully will face the full force of the law.”

The provisions are set out in the Government’s Offensive Weapons Act, which received Royal Assent in May 2019.

From December 2020 to March 2021, the Government ran a scheme allowing members of the public to surrender to the police any items that fell within the new ban and claim compensation from the Home Office.

During the period, 14,965 knives and offensive weapons, 1,133 ‘rapid fire’ firearms (as defined within the Offensive Weapons Act) and more than 32,000 items of ancillary equipment were surrendered, with the Home Office receiving and processing 829 claims for compensation.

The Government is also reminding members of the public about forthcoming changes to the law around antique firearms.

The Antique Firearms Regulations 2021, introduced in March this year, provides for the first time a legal definition of ‘antique firearm’ to prevent criminals exploiting a lack of clarity in law to gain possession of such a weapon for use in crime.

Owners of firearms which have ceased to be antiques as a result of the 2021 Regulations have until 22 September this year to apply to the police for a firearms certificate, which allows them to own these weapons legally. Alternatively, they can surrender, sell or otherwise dispose of the firearm before 22 September.

Police continue to urge anybody to contact them should they know of anybody involved with illegal weapons to contact them via the website or by calling 101. Alternatively contact can also be made via Crimestoppers, anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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