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THE HERALD FRIDAY OCTOBER 7 2016


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Ceredigion counters refugee shame “CALAIS is only an hour and


a half from the comfort of central London and, yet, the only visible British Government contribution has been the millions of pounds spent on the wire fence, complete with razor wire, around the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Our Government should be thoroughly ashamed of its inadequate response to this crisis.” Speaking at a very well attended and supported Aberaid event in the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth last Saturday (Oct 1), Ceredigion MP Mark Williams was visibly moved by the crisis and spoke with passion. Having visited the Calais refugee camp, known as ‘the Jungle’, he was extremely angry at the continuing callous attitude of the Conservative Government. Aberaid’s event took place one


year on from the group’s founding rally on Aberystwyth promenade. The aim of the afternoon was to reflect on the intervening year. Aberaid were seeking inputs from the community as the group consider the way forward and how it can best respond to the refugee crisis, which not only continues but worsens. On the day, the Morlan Centre was packed with standing room only. As they had done a year previously, Côr Gobaith sang some appropriate songs to begin proceedings, including ‘I Want Rosa to Stay’ by Liverpool musician Alun Parry. The song includes the lines: ‘They want to make Rosa their next deportee / Saying she takes resources intended for me / And rich men in mansions say that’s why I’m poor / But I don’t remember being wealthy before’.


THE TERRIBLE TRUTH Lindsey Gaunt presented for


Aberaid with a comprehensive summary of the refugee crisis. According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes; of 21.3 million refugees, over half are children; 10 million stateless people are denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result


Kelvin Mason Aberystwyth Reporter kelvin.mason@herald.email


of conflict or persecution. Focussing on the impact of the conflict on Syria, Lindsey told her audience that 4.8 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, while 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile, about one million have requested asylum in Europe. Infamously, in 2015, the UK Government pledged to bring just 20,000 Syrian refuges to the UK and then only by 2020. The latest published statistics show that only 1,800 Syrians in need of protection have so far been provided with refuge in the UK. In addition to its self-imposed quota of Syrian refugees, the government has committed to accepting up to 3,000 vulnerable children and family members directly from the Middle East and North Africa. There are particular concerns for


‘lone children’ or unaccompanied minors in the Jungle. There are an estimated 1,000 unaccompanied minors in the Calais camp and almost 400 have already been identified as having a legal right to come to Britain, many having relatives here. To date, however, the UK has not taken in a single one of these children. One of Lyndsey Gaunt’s statistics brought the situation home to people assembled in the Morlan with particularly dreadful clarity. Lebanon, a country roughly the geographic size of Wales, has accepted over 1 million Syrian refugees while Wales has accepted around 115. The GDP of Lebanon in 2015 was £36.68 billion, according to the World Bank, while Wales’ GDP for 2014 was £54.3 billion according to the Office for National Statistics. Meanwhile, Wales has a population of a little over three million while Lebanon has approaching double that number of people.


CEREDIGION’S CHALLENGES In addition to Mark Williams,


speakers included Elin Jones, who praised the work of Aberaid and was similarly passionate about the issue. “We should be very proud that Aberystwyth was the first town in Wales


Joumana Alshtiwi: ‘One day, all the world will be ashamed’


to offer a home for Syrian refugees. But so much more needs to be done by all governments to support people having to escape from the bombing of their towns and cities in Syria.” The latest Government data on vacant dwellings shows over 200,000 long-term empty homes in the UK, where long-term means over six months. Anecdotally, at least, the accounts of people networking in the Morlan on Saturday suggest that Ceredigion has its fair share of empty homes that could house refugees. Cathryn Morgan, Families First


Coordinator for Ceredigion County Council, went some way to explaining why they had only manged to welcome 10 refugees to the county. Going into considerable detail, she outlined how much work it took and the resources that were needed to welcome refuges to the high standard the council worked to in terms of accommodation, language training and integration. All the steps and measures that Cathryn listed helped the audience towards understanding what would be involved in the Community Sponsorship programme


that Aberaid are considering. Dr Jenny Mathers from the Interpol Department of Aberystwyth University gave an unavoidably bleak outline of the refugee crisis, which shows no signs of improving. She also reported that proposals for Refugee Scholarships at Aberystwyth University were still under consideration and she remained hopeful of a positive outcome. Clare Winton is part of a team


travelling to Calais on Saturday (Oct 8) to deliver donations from Aberaid. She told the people in the Morlan that the French authorities plan to evict the entire refugee camp by October 31, expelling over 10,000 people in perhaps just three days. The tragic need was thus for rucksacks and suitcases with wheels so that people could take with them what little they have. Tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, and warm blankets as well as small and medium size winter jumpers, and warm and waterproof coats to fit teenagers were also needed. Those attending the event at the Morlan brought a good deal of luggage and other donations for Clare


and others take to Calais. Reportedly, the French authorities have no plans to rehouse the children in the camp whom Britain has already promised to help, attempting to force UK government’s hand.


‘ONE DAY, ALL THE WORLD WILL BE ASHAMED’


The speaker who moved the


audience most was Joumana Alshtiwi. Joumana is 25-years-old and from Syria. She has only been in Aberystwyth for only six months. Before coming to Ceredigion, she stayed in Lebanon for two years after fleeing the murderous regime of President Bashar Hafez al- Assad. Joumana has not seen her family for three years. In Lebanon she worked with refugees via an organisation that supports women survivors of war. On Saturday, in the Morlan, Joumana talked about the refugees in Lebanon who are living in crippling poverty. She reminded the audience that there


are more than one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon and up to half a million more unregistered arrivals. In her presentation, Joumana put human faces and human stories to these stark statistics. Although she apologised for her


English, there was absolutely no need. The whole audience understood every word and was palpably moved by what she had to say. She spoke about all the Syrian


Aberaid’s Lindsey Gaunt: Of 21.3 million refugees, over half are children


Passionate about injustice: Mark Williams, Ceredigion MP


children in Lebanon who cannot got to school, who are homeless and growing up without an education: “There are a lot of children in the street selling biscuits or tissues so that their families can survive. One day, all the world will be ashamed about these Syrian Children.”


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