By Harry Webster
Refugee Rhythms – a night run by Cardiff’s Student Action for Refugees (STAR) group – proved a huge success, emphasising the ‘togetherness’ of both the refugee, and student population living in the city.
The event, which last year won the award for the ‘Best Large Event’ by Cardiff University, saw musical performances from around the world, with headliners the ‘Alsaher Brothers’ themselves moving to Cardiff from Syria.
The night also saw live performances from: Hélélé, a Bristol based five-piece band who merge Afro-beat, jazz, Latin and funk; and Sounds of Harlowe, a hip-hop, jazz ensemble; while also featuring disc jockey performances from Bump ’n’ Grind & Blue Honey.
Speaking of the night, Mike Hatcher, President of STAR, told Gair Rhydd, “Nothing else compares to the feeling of community in the Student Union last night. I’m proud to be part of it and excited for the rest of the year.
“The highlight of the night was looking around an almost full Y Plas hearing a variety of languages, listening to multiple types of music and seeing loads of people making, quite literally, hundreds of new friends. The food was both diverse and tasty. We had our finest STAR chefs cooking up what I believe is the best falafel in Wales.”
The same feelings were expressed by Callum Parsons, STARs’ Social Secretary, who said, “It was a crazy cross section of society coming together to make something exciting and alive… The vibe was one of sheer togetherness.”
The success of the night comes after it was recently reported that the British Red Cross came to the aid of 963 people left ‘destitute’ after moving to the Welsh capital. The charity outlines an individual as being destitute if they have no permanent address, are unable to afford essential items, are not eating sufficiently, and/or are in a state of diminishing health.
The figure sees Cardiff sit behind only Leicester, and London with regards to the severity of the issue, but does mark a decrease from 2015, when 1,134 people used the charity’s destitution service – the highest figure reported in the whole of the UK.
However, despite the improvement, the number of children using the service increased – rising from 227 individuals in 2015 individuals, to 275 in 2016.
Speaking exclusively to Gair Rhydd, one STAR representative, Steven Curry, a third year history student at Cardiff University, highlighted both housing, and the weekly allowance granted to asylum seekers, as being two of the most significant difficulties faced by refugees.
“Destitution and the quality of housing provided is a serious problem in Cardiff. Asylum Seekers get a weekly allowance of £36.95, roughly £5 a day. This isn’t enough to live on so both children and adults are dependent on external support provided by local charities.”
Indeed, while both local and national charities – such as the Red Cross – are doing a lot to relieve the suffering of refugees in the city, their resources are stretched, exacerbated by Cardiff’s intense homelessness problem – increasing the demand for organisations such as STAR, specifically devoted to helping refugees, and asylum seekers.
Such a rhetoric was reflected by Mr. Curry, who claimed, “Local charities tackling homelessness are at present in performing over capacity and in particular refused asylum seekers have no recourse to public funds so often fall to the bottom of the pile in terms of allocation of support and shelter.
“Destitute asylum seekers regularly drop in needing shelter for the night. At STAR we provide advice on options available to them. Our national campaign ‘Still Human Still Here’, a coalition of more than 50 organisations that are campaigning for a fairer asylum system in which nobody is forced to live in poverty or destitution.
“We run a weekly English conversation class for local refugees and asylum seekers, focusing on practical conversations such as going to the GP, Bank, or even conservations about the rugby. This enables refugees and asylum seekers to improve their English and hence ability to socialise, find employment and integrate into the Cardiff community.”
One individual whom has benefitted from the services provided by STAR was Issa Farfour, one of the three members of the headline act; The Alsaher Brothers.
Issa, who performs in the band alongside his two brothers, Hossam, and Yildiz, moved to Cardiff eighteen months ago, and has since been heavily involved in STAR, telling Gair Rhydd of how the organisation have helped him to learn English, while also helping to make friends in the city.
Speaking exclusively to Gair Rhydd, Issa said, “I’ve been in Cardiff one and a half years now, and to be honest I love Cardiff, I absolutely love Cardiff, I moved to Cardiff from London last year, and I had no idea what Cardiff, what Wales was like, until I started to meet people.
“I went to the STAR committee training centre, where I had English conversation classes. I started to meet people and now I have a lot of friends, and I’m really enjoying my life with them. I really love my life in Cardiff.”
“STAR is a very important platform for refugees. It helps people meet people from this country, from this culture. You can have free English classes, make friends, go to City Road, have shisha, have tea. I made friends and now I feel like I have a big family in Cardiff. When i moved to Cardiff, I felt depressed, and lonely, but not anymore.
“They have helped me with University as well, I’m now doing a pathway course to a degree in Journalism. They are still supporting me a lot now.
The help given to Issa by the voluntary organisation has since inspired Issa to become part of the STAR team. Shedding some light on his role, Issa said, “I became a part of them (STAR), I organise parties, for example the Christmas party. I play drums as well, so we have a lot of fun with them. I teach English classes with them, and I organise music events, like this one (Refugee Rhythms).”