By George Caulton
Since the early 1950s, Cardiff has been home to hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide. Having accommodated the needs of refugees from Somalia, Vietnam and Uganda in the 1980s, it has also been a temporary sanctuary of safety for refugees of a Chinese descent for over 100 hundred years.
In 2018, however, the situation has exacerbated. In 2015, David Cameron, and the members of the Home Office, claimed that the UK would allow 20,000 Syrians to resettle in various counties in the UK in response to the pressures of NGOs and petitions.
In comparison with other areas of the UK, Cardiff, and South Wales in general, have an expanding MENA refugee community, yet their voices remain absent from government documents, media and academia. Many stories about the journeys of refugees have been repeated and portrayed throughout the media, yet there is hardly any discussion about the treatment of refugees as they enter the UK. Whilst on the one hand, the British government have rehomed thousands of vulnerable refugees, they have also neglected and isolated large groups of people who have been expected to integrate successfully into British culture without any aid or help.
Many of the asylum seekers and refugees are not allowed to work, or are unable to find work, for one of two reasons. These reasons include, but are not limited to, the strict laws which do not permit them to do so, and the fact that there are still cases of social discrimination and prejudice against this minority group. For somebody who has sought asylum in the UK, they are only authorised to receive around £5.20 each day by the government.
The Press Association conducted a study in 2016 which highlighted that approximately 1 in 322 people in Cardiff have either claimed asylum or refuge, making Cardiff one of the most densely populated centres of refuge in the UK.
There are many local community and student groups who volunteer to better the current situation faced by many refugees in Cardiff. As several refugees are not able to speak or communicate in English, groups such as STAR (Student Action for Refugees), Oasis Cardiff and the Trinity Centre each provide facilities to teach refugees some basic English. These centres of sanctuary also provide refugees and asylum seekers with a place of safety and advice whilst they attempt to resettle in Cardiff.
Many of these organisations and volunteer groups are entirely separate from any government branch. This inevitably has substantial social consequences. These organisations are solely reliant on donations, grants and volunteers who are passionate about the cause and are willing to give their time to help. Further social consequences, which have been identified by several refugees in Wales, include an increase in mental health issues, language barriers and leading an extremely poor quality of life due to the little money that is given to them. Whilst the government are helping to accommodate refugees in the UK by rehoming them, they still remain voiceless and isolated from British culture.
In a conference entitled ‘Migrant Voice’ in London, one refugee from Syria, who knows lives in the UK, claimed:
You cannot just bring people here and then leave them. You cannot just bring in 20,000 Syrians if you will not address the situation of the Syrians who are already here. The government talks as though they want to help but they are not helping those that are here – people are still being detained, threatened with deportation, even though everyone knows the situation in Syria.
The government have a duty and a responsibility to cater for the needs of all refugees in the UK, and at the moment, they are failing to do so.
There are several ways that students at Cardiff can actively help refugees. Whether you want to help refugees and asylum seekers to develop their English skills, or are even able to offer an hour each week to advise them on certain social issues, there are plenty of outlets that are in need of dedicated volunteers. Located on Newport Road, student volunteer society STAR is a great place to start, yet if you fancy getting out of the uni bubble, a full list of voluntary opportunities is available on the Welsh Refugee Council’s website