Tag Archives: refugees

“No one wants to leave their life” – interview with Refugee Words

We spotted the #wearehumanjustlikeyou video on Twitter the other day, and wanted to find out more about the story and people behind it. We interviewed Kate Whiting of Refugee Words, a new project designed to encourage more people to see refugees as human, just like us. 

Right now, there are 21 Syrian refugees living in Cardiff, relocated under the UK Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). Another 1,372 people in the city (of many nationalities, not just Syrian) are living in limbo, awaiting the outcomes of their asylum applications, which could take years. They usually can’t work during this time, and they can’t claim mainstream benefits, instead living off the £36.95 a week given to them by the Home Office.

These are the people lucky enough to make it to the UK. The ones who couldn’t make it across the channel are living in camps such as Dunkirk – they include unaccompanied children, families, older and vulnerable people, and they are just like us. 

We chatted to Kate of the Refugee Words team to find out more about their time in the camp.

What’s your story? 

There are two of us that make up the Refugee Words Team. I’m Kate, I’m from Norfolk. I met my Welsh boyfriend (from just outside Cardiff) while living in London. I guess you could say that I moved to Cardiff for love! I’d spent a fair bit of time in Wales before though, and have now got stuck right in. Dwi’n dysgu Cymraeg!

Our other member, Jess, is actually from Cardiff originally, but we met in Brighton, where we were both studying to become actors. We are hoping to continue the Refugee Words project in order that we can make a theatre piece using the words collected.

How did you end up in the camp?

A friend of mine suggested it after a discussion we’d had about wanting to do something about the general state of the world. Seeing as the refugee crisis is the biggest of our life times, we started there. We had also thought of doing some theatre workshops at the women’s centre, but when we arrived we quickly realised that it was last thing they would have wanted.

There were lots of people coming in and out wanting to do things with the women, to greater and lesser success, but all they really wanted was for us to lend a hand in a practical sense and speak with them. We distracted the kids by playing games with them.

We did hair, make-up, got our eyebrows (and upper lip – shhhhh) tweezed, and most importantly took a shopping list from the women so that we could go to the local supermarket and spend the generous donations family and friends had given us on EXACTLY what they wanted. No one had thought to buy wax, as it’s not ‘essential’, but these women just wanted to feel human again. They are collecting knickers as hand-outs, they just want a bit of dignity and choice back.

What motivated you to make the film?

We decided to collect the ‘stories’ of the people in the Dunkirk camp on our second visit. When we talked about our time volunteering in Dunkirk, it quickly became apparent that people just aren’t aware of it. Everyone knows about Calais, but Dunkirk has gone practically unnoticed. So much so that the unaccompanied minors in Dunkirk were not even included in the measly number eventually brought over under the Dubs amendment.

At the time we didn’t know what we would do with the words/stories, we just knew that we wanted the British public to hear them and that it had to be something immediate. In the end it was Jess’s idea to make a film, we originally had in mind that we would do it with famous faces to increase the exposure, but it’s not so easy convincing known faces to do a film for a couple of unknown women in Cardiff!

How did you make the film? Did you conduct the interviews with refugees? How did you get people to participate in the film? What were the challenges?

I sent a sort of introduction to what we were doing, to be translated. It was translated in to Sorani Kurdish, which is what most of the camp’s residents, at that time, spoke. I also translated it into Arabic on google translate. I didn’t bargain for the fact that in copying it over onto word the font would change and become unrecognisable!! Most speak Arabic as well as their first language, so I knew that we’d reach more of the residents and not just the Kurdish ones, but sadly when we showed them the paper cut outs with the Arabic translation, there were lots of very confused faces!!

Luckily the Kurdish one did the trick, it basically said that we are theatre makers and interested in getting the story of their lives across to the British public, especially those who are unaware of their situation. We said that we hoped to put pressure on the government. For those that agreed, we gave them a dictaphone and invited them to tell their story into it in their native language. We stood away from them to give them the space they needed. There were many tears. We then got these translated back into English when we got home.

In terms of actually getting people involved in the film when we got home, that’s a whole other story! I’ll try to keep it brief! We made a flyer inviting people to film themselves (on their smart phones) saying the words we had collected as if they were their own. We put the flyer up on social media and sent emails, and 70+ people responded. Including Guardian journalists Owen Jones, Gary Younge, and Nisreen Malik. We feel so lucky to have so many people involved. We then edited all the films together for maximum impact. Sadly we couldn’t include everyone’s videos in the final edit, but we hope to continue the project and release a longer version of the video in the near future. 

What do you hope is the effect of the film?

We hope that the effect is to humanise the camp’s residents. To make British people, particularly those who wouldn’t usually think about the refugee crisis, realise that this could be them. These people are just like us. In the words of the residents “we are all human”, “all humans deserve a life”, “we are human, just like you”. 

Our biggest hope is that if we can get this film seen by lots of people, they will join us by putting pressure on the UK Government to rethink their current position on allowing refugees to enter the UK. 

Please like and share across social media sites with our hashtag #wearehumanjustlikeyou

And visit our website for further information refugeewords.org

Get involved, get informed

To volunteer your time or skills to refugees and asylum seekers in Cardiff, get in touch with the Oasis Centre, Asylum Justice, the Trinity Centre, Oxfam Cymru or Welsh Refugee Council.

More information about volunteering your time or donating money, goods or food is available on the HelpRefugees website.

The National Assembly for Wales’s cross-party equality committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into the support for refugees and asylum seekers in Wales. It will be publishing its findings and recommendations next month. You can see all the written and oral evidence here.


Refugee Week 2016: Cardiff events

There’s some strange synchronicity in this week being Refugee Week, given all the awful news of the past few days.

Refugee Week is what this post is about, but in case you haven’t read them, please read the following two pieces:

Also, in case you’re feeling all het up about all the terrible xenophobic trash so much of our media has been talking, a protest has been arranged for this Saturday:

Protest: after the referendum, defend all migrants – Saturday 25 June, 12 midday, Aneurin Bevan statue, Cardiff city centre


Cardiff, an intercultural city?

Monday 20 June, Oasis Centre Cardiff (Facebook event)

Cardiff City of Sanctuary, in partnership with the Welsh Refugee Council and Oasis Cardiff, invites you to a celebration of Cardiff’s migrant communities and the local people who welcome them into the city.

An evening of lively performances and insightful discussion on the contribution of migrants to the city and how Cardiff can design effective local strategies for migrant integration.

Where: Oasis, 69b Splott Road, Cardiff, CF24 2BW
When : Monday 20th June,
Time : 6:00pm-8:00pm

All are welcome to attend, network and consider important questions for our local community:
• How do we achieve successful integration in local communities?
• What is happening in Cardiff to help migrant communities to reach their potential?
• Where next for the city? Where next for Wales?

A free dinner, cooked by local refugees and asylum seekers, will be provided for all attendees.

Migrants from all backgrounds are encouraged to attend. Please contact Althea at the Welsh Refugee Council for more information: althea@wrc.wales


Photography Exhibition about Calais Refugee Camp

June 17 – 25, Cardiff MADE Gallery,  open Weds – Sat 10am – 6pm

Self-taught photographer and long term volunteer in the notorious “Jungle” Refugee Camp in Calais, Megan Howell, raises profound questions about the violence affecting the refugees who live in Calais through this exhibition.

The photography exhibition “Voices” challenges the use of such inflammatory tactics with a presentation of photographic footage shot largely during the most violent phase of evictions in February and March 2016. Megan spent three months in the camp during which time she twice witnessed thousands of its residents being internally displaced as a result of, often violent, evictions carried out by the local authorities. When describing her time working in the camp, Megan says that “the most shocking aspect was the violent and oppressive manner in which the refugees were treated by the authorities. In my opinion the tactics of the CRS are extremely heavy-handed and they frequently escalate benign situations unnecessarily to the point where the use of force is able to be legitimised.”

It is highly likely that the camp will one day be completely dismantled suggesting the possibility of repeated eviction processes. Highlighting the violent nature of these evictions is, therefore, an important part of the campaign to secure the rights and freedoms of the refugees living in Calais. The camp is under the near constant guard of the heavily armed French riot police – the CRS – who carry batons, rubber bullets and tear gas grenade launchers as well as keeping a water canon on standby.

“When Megan showed us her photographs and told us her story, we immediately recognised the potential for this exhibition to play a pivotal role in achieving aims of Refugee Week Wales 2016.” – Lindsay Wright – Refugee Week Wales Co-ordinator


Refugee Week celebrations at the Wales Millennium Centre

Join the WMC as they present work as part Refugee Week Wales, exploring the challenging and moving stories of migration and resilience in a rapidly changing world. The Centre has been working with Oasis Cardiff, WOW Women’s Film Club, Louise Osborn, young and aspiring performers, community volunteers and Music Without Borders Cardiff to bring together a collection of projects and showcases free for you to get involved in.

The Refugee Wales exhibition will be on throughout June and our film event and must see Weston Studio performance of Blackbird, will take place across the Refugee Week weekend of 25 and 26 June.

Refugee Week at the Wales Millennium Centre


More info: Welsh Refugee Council – Facebook  /  Cardiff City of Sanctuary

And don’t forget to vote in the EU referendum on Thursday (the right answer is ‘Remain in Europe’, in case you weren’t sure).


We Are Cardiff

There is love here

Monet's San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk
Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk

A brave, compassionate, intelligent woman was murdered for her beliefs yesterday. She spent her life fighting for change through democratic, peaceful debate – not violence.

We give a shit about the same issues that Jo Cox gave a shit about. Maybe this is part of why her assassination, which happened only 200 miles away from us, feels like a very personal attack on our country’s belief that change comes through discussion, not war.

But our democracy is more fragile than we think. When someone can end democratic discussion in such a simple and brutal way, the fundamentals of our world start to change. In the words of the Guardian, “the slide from civilisation to barbarism is shorter than we might like to imagine.”

Jo’s husband said that she would want people to “unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.” So today, in respect to a woman who had a go at the Russian ambassador over the terrible way his country behaved in Syria, we are going to spread some love to our 40,000 followers to try and counter the viciousness that’s gestated in recent debates.

Some of it’s political, some of it isn’t. But we believe in pluralism – that different political, religious and cultural beliefs can exist peacefully side by side.

We also believe that while things are a mess right now, the good outweighs the bad:

Refugees are being welcomed into our city

Millions of people are fleeing their home countries because of war and crisis, and our city is doing what it can to welcome them in beautiful and creative ways. Next week is Refugee Week, so there’s lots of stuff going on.

Writer and refugee Eric Ngalle Charles has written a book about what it means to be a refugee – caught between two worlds and condemned by both. He came to Cardiff on a Zimbabwean passport after fleeing persecution in his village and being illegally trafficked into Russia. The book, Asylum, features several refugees he has met through the creative writing classes he runs at the Welsh Refugee Centre in Splott.

Oxfam are running a campaign for people to write letters of welcome to newly-arrived refugees. You can write a long letter or a short note and post it in one of the special Nation of Sanctuary post boxes at any of 23 Oxfam shops across Wales. Or if you prefer you can write a welcoming email, and send it to oxfamcymru@oxfam.org.uk. To find your nearest Oxfam shops visit: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop/local-shops

An exhibition of photos by Megan Howell opened yesterday. Through photographs taken in the Jungle refugee camp over a three-month period in early 2016, it explores the nature of the State, the role of violence and the characteristics of being a refugee in Calais. The exhibition runs until Sat. 25th June. There will be a special event talk on Sunday 19th June 3-5pm in the gallery cafe to discuss the nature of conflict, as well life in the camp by people who have witnessed it first hand.

And G39 and Trinity Centre are coming together to present an event focussing on creative use of texts as part of Refugee Week.  

The Oasis Centre support refugees and asylum seekers every day, providing classes, employability workshops, dance classes, a women’s only area, mother and toddler groups and support with letters and phone calls about asylum and refugee issues.

But there are still issues with the Welsh response to the refugee crisis.  While every council has committed to resettled refugees, only 78 have been welcomed so far. The fair proportion of the UK number would be 724. Get active and push for change if you believe that’s what is right.

Our politicians want to make our lives better

Yep, some of them are awful, some are odd, or detached, or thoughtless. But from personal, daily experience, the vast majority do the job because they want to make people’s lives better. The success of this relies on the engagement of the people they represent to push them on the issues that matter.

So, find out which politicians speak on the issues you care about, know how to tell them your thoughts, and get engaged. Democracy is our best tool against violence because we all have equal influence. If you’re angry and passionate, push for change through this peaceful process.

In Wales, we have elected representatives at multiple levels. Different representatives are responsible for deciding on particular issues.

For example, if you are concerned about the number of refugees that the UK is committing to resettle, you need to talk to your MP. But if you want to find out about how our hospitals are being run, follow what’s going on in the National Assembly for Wales. For local issues like potholes, the council is responsible. Our MEPs are elected by us to make decisions on EU law and funding like the money that gets spent on programmes and buildings in Cardiff.

You can contact your councillors, Assembly Members, Members of Parliament and the Lords, and Members of the European Parliament through the brilliant writetothem.com website.

You can even start a petition to the UK Parliament or National Assembly for Wales and get your voice heard that way.

Good people are doing good things for people in crisis

Earlier this week, I visited the Trussell Trust at their food bank in Barry. They provide emergency food for people with nowhere else to turn, and they do it without judgment, prejudice or conditionality.

Last year they provided food to 85,000 people in Wales. There are 19 food banks around Cardiff , where people donate food, which volunteers sort, store and then distribute it when someone is referred to them by a professional.

Food banks don’t just provide food though – they also providing a range of new services like money advice and Fuel Banks, helping people to break the cycle of poverty.

These incredible organisations are supporting people in our own communities who don’t have a safety net. They do it for free, and with love.

We celebrate magical, mischievous, creative people like Roald Dahl

Cardiff will soon be transformed for the centenary of one of its most well-known sons, Roald Dahl. As well as being one of our best storytellers, Dahl repeatedly experienced tragedy and pain during his life. He saw the pointlessness of violence and war and chose to use his voice to lighten the world, instead of darkening it.

He was also outspoken and political; he refused an honour from the Queen and spoke about the absurdity of the diplomatic service (he famously said “I’d just come from the war. People were getting killed. I had been flying around, seeing horrible things. Now, almost instantly, I found myself in the middle of a pre-war cocktail party in America”).

In September, the city will be taken over and transformed into a place where the laws of physics and civic predictability give way to the laws of magic, mischief and the unexpected.

Wales Millennium Centre and National Theatre Wales are calling out to the people of Cardiff, Wales and Britain to take part. 

They’re seeking 6000 performers for this landmark celebration, needing 2,000 choristers, 1,000 dancers, 50 Morris Minor drivers, 40 bald men, 13 magicians, four brass bands, three excavator drivers, a Spitfire pilot, firemen, circus artists, aerialists, rock climbers, grandparents, children and a performing mouse.

To take part in this two-day spectacular, visit www.cityoftheunexpected.wales and register your interest.

Our city takes pride in its jumble of different people

Following the barbarism of the events in Orlando, our city stood with pride of our LBTG community. We’re proud that our city crossed political, cultural and religious lines to condemn a brutal act.  And in April our city stood up to say that terrorism can’t divide people after recent attacks. We stand with pride to remember our wars. And we marched with pride to welcome refugees to our city.

People of Cardiff are proud to stand up for what they believe, because there is love here.

See? There is so much more love than hate. So much more to celebrate than mourn. “So much more that unites us than divides us.”

Big love from Hana and Helia, the We Are Cardiff Joy Monkeys xxx

PS. The featured image for this post is Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk, which hangs in the National Museum Wales – isn’t it beautiful?