Wales as a refuge
For well over 100 years, refugees have found a safe home in Wales, especially in the ports and valleys of South Wales. In the nineteenth century, Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe settled in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. In the first half of the twentieth century, people sought refuge in Wales as a result of the First World War, the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Wales became a safe haven for Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, and communities of Belgians, Spaniards, Poles and Italians were established in Wales.
After the Second World War, the need for a legal framework to protect refugees was widely recognised. In 1951 the U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was agreed. This granted the right to asylum and other rights to people who met the definition of a refugee as a person who:
Owing to well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. 1
The U.K. has signed the U.N. Convention and in the U.K. asylum applications are assessed according to this definition. An asylum seeker is a person who has applied for asylum and is waiting for the Home Office to make a decision about their case. Asylum applications need to be made on arrival at a UK port (e.g. Heathrow) or at the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon. A refugee is a person who has been recognised by the Home Office as in need of protection.
During the latter half of the twentieth century small numbers of asylum seekers and refugees arrived in Wales from further afield, escaping human rights abuses and civil wars in countries such as Vietnam, Chile and former Yugoslavia. A large community of Somalis now exists in Cardiff, which was established long ago by Somali seamen but which has grown due to refugees from widespread and long-term violence in that country.
Research conducted in 19962 established that there were 3,600 asylum seekers or refugees in Wales. At that time, the vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees in the U.K. were living in London.
Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 introduced the policy of dispersal. Under this policy, asylum seekers who have no other source of accommodation are allocated accommodation in dispersal areas around the UK. In Wales, asylum seekers are sent to an Initial Accommodation centre in Cardiff and then on to other accommodation in Cardiff, Newport, Wrexham and Swansea. This has increased the numbers of asylum seekers and refugees living in Wales, and established new communities from a wide range of countries.
In 2006 it was estimated that there are around 3,000 asylum seekers and 10,000 refugees3 in Wales. Today, about thirty five new asylum seekers are sent every week to Wales. In 2008, 980 people were dispersed to Cardiff, 385 to Swansea, 250 to Newport and 25 to Wrexham4. Most of these come from dangerous countries such as Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. Not all remain in Wales permanently, some either migrate to other parts of the U.K. or return to their country of origin, but for many, Wales has become their home. Small refugee community organisations, usually run by volunteers on a shoe-string budget, offer support to new arrivals.
Making a contribution
Asylum seekers and refugees bring with them a range of skills which they want to use for the benefit of the communities that have made them welcome. They are keen to fully participate in Welsh life. Politicians and service providers in Wales have worked hard to promote equal access to services for asylum seekers and refugees, so that they can rebuild their lives. In 2008 the Welsh Assembly Government made an important contribution by introducing the Refugee Inclusion Strategy. The Welsh Refugee Council is the lead voluntary agency in this field and runs specialist services for asylum seekers and refugees in the dispersal areas. Asylum seekers and refugees are grateful for the warm welcome which they have received from local people in Wales. Although it is common for them to experience hostility from some individuals, in the main they consider Wales a welcoming place.
Refugee Community Organisations
Refugee Community Organisations play a hugely important role in helping refugees to rebuild their lives in Wales. Go to Communities in Wales for contact details of some of the most established RCOs.
- Convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees Link to UNHCR article ↩
- Robinson, V. (1997) Refugees in Wales: An ‘invisible minority’, Migration Unit Research Paper 13, Welsh Refugee Council/University of Wales Swansea, Swansea ↩
- Robinson, V., (2006) Mapping the field: Refugee Housing in Wales, Amazon ↩
- UKBA dispersal statistics 2008 ↩