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Alison Sutherland from the
Rotary Club of Cardiff Bay has been working with refugees and asylum seekers at
the Cardiff Resettlement Centre as part of a programme which is helping to
change lives and perceptions. Here is her story.
often I drive along the stop-start Newport Road in Cardiff to visit my
daughter. Two years ago, I remember noticing a fair-sized group of men sitting
outside a fairly non-descript building. They were just chatting.
I got to work, I decided to find out what the building was used for and
discovered it was a resettlement centre for refugees and asylum seekers. At the
time I thought how sad it was to see these people just hanging around on a busy
road-side, waiting for their cases to be researched and presented.
decided something needed to be done, so I met John Kerry, manager of the
resettlement centre, known as Lynx House.
agreed that I could visit the centre every Sunday to deliver a programme to
these people on behalf of Rotary District 1150 (Southern Wales).
programme is provided by PeaceJam, a US charity. It has the support and input
from 13 Nobel Peace Laureates, including the Dalai Lama, the retired Archbishop
Desmond Tutu, Oscar Arias, the former president of Costa Rica, and Iranian
human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi.
is home to several thousand displaced people from Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Iraq,
Iran, Uganda and other countries.
they arrive in the UK seeking asylum, they have to wait for up to a year for a
hearing to determine if they qualify for official refugee status. We get up to
1,000 a month seeking refuge in Cardiff.
“The programme helps them to
hold on to who they are while,
understanding and embracing the differences.”
during that time is extremely frustrating for them. They’re not allowed to
work. Meanwhile, of course, they are very afraid. Their journeys have been
of the diverse backgrounds, nationalities and languages of the residents, it’s
only possible to deliver a two-hour chunk. Arabic is the major language, but
often, the sessions are delivered in up to 10 languages with residents
translating for each another. Sometimes, though, this is not always possible.
programme looks at the Laureates and touches on some of their stories,
highlighting their lives and how they handled conflict in a peaceful way.
illustrates how the Laureates also had to flee their home countries in fear of
their lives. And the programme deals with identity and difference, universal
human rights, plus the culture and traditions of the UK, specifically Wales.
point of the programme is to equip these would-be citizens to integrate quickly
into their new communities.
helps them to hold on to who they are while, at the same time, understanding
and embracing the differences.
want to set them up for integration, rather than isolation.
take the attitude that we’re not looking at the root cause, we’re looking at
the presenting issue. They’re here, and we need to help them.
the first year, 16 residents of Lynx joined Rotaract. They attended social
events and volunteered alongside City of Cardiff Rotaract and Cardiff Bay
shook tins, stewarded at the big firework event at Cardiff Castle, face-painted,
dressed up as Christmas Elves in support of a local children’s hospice and got
involved with street cleaning and a blood pressure event.
“We want to set them up for
integration, rather than isolation.”
residents did not always fall within the prescribed Rotaract age range, but it
was not possible to offer them Rotary membership as they were not in possession
of their citizenship, plus the costs were also prohibitive.
the Rotaractors decided that they wanted to support and subsidise them.
background of the residents of Lynx varies considerably. There was an
international human rights lawyer from Libya, a surgeon from Syria, a petro
chemical engineer from Sudan and so on.
we are doing in Cardiff is making a small, but significant difference. The
programme runs every other Sunday where I am assisted by two City of Cardiff
Rotaractors, one of whom acts as an Arabic translator.
of the recipients, especially those who joined Rotaract, have said that they
felt this programme is vital. They said that no one else is giving them this
information. They believe the friendship, welcome and respect which they
received has helped them enormously.
passionate about justice. I’m passionate about being the voice of the
voiceless. I think everyone is entitled to human rights and to opportunities
and that some wrong turns don’t define the rest of their life.
of the residents told me how the programme had prevented him from committing
suicide. And that, perhaps, is the most sobering thought of all.
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First published inRotary, the official magazine of Rotary
in Great Britain and Ireland. Find out more at www.rotarygbi.org
expressed in this make-up article do not necessarily represent the opinions of
Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff