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19 June 2013

Wales as a Nation of Sanctuary

Wales as a Nation of Sanctuary

The first Wales City of Sanctuary conference was held in Cardiff on 18 June with 100 delegates in attendance. The successful event was held to meet the growing interest in the City of Sanctuary movement in Wales.

What is the City of Sanctuary movement? The vision is a simple one – for Britain's towns and cites to develop a culture of hospitality and to become places of welcome for those fleeing persecution – and it was Methodist minister Inderjit Bhogal who first had the idea back in 2005, which led to Sheffield becoming the UK's first city of sanctuary.

The vision gradually became a movement and by 2013, some 25 towns, cities and boroughs in the UK were engaging with the concept, with six cities having received official City of Sanctuary status thus far. Swansea was the UK's second official city of sanctuary and Cardiff is hoping to achieve recognition by the end of the year.

Although the vision is a relatively new one, Wales has long had a history of hospitality and so it is appropriate that Welsh cities and towns should embrace the City of Sanctuary movement.

Among many suitable milestones to demonstrate this was the development of Tiger Bay in Cardiff in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the booming coal industry in South Wales meant that Welsh coal was being shipped from Cardiff to the four corners of the earth. The growing economy meant that migrants from all over the world were being attracted to Cardiff to find work aboard ship and on the docks. People came from places such as Norway, Somalia, Yemen, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean and Ireland, so much so that by the 1950s, the Tiger Bay area – which had a population of 10,000 people – boasted 57 nationalities and over 50 languages. This created one of the richest and most culturally diverse areas in UK history.

In 2001 four dispersal areas were created in Wales in Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham for asylum seekers arriving in the UK. This was to ease the housing and social pressure on London and the South East, and many organisations sprung up as a result to provide services for asylum seekers and refugees. Churches developed ministries as well in response to asylum seekers who began to turn up at their Sunday services.

Wales has been progressive in its approach to asylum seekers, saying that inclusion begins on arrival in the UK, rather than when refugee status is granted.

In May 2012, Wales' first minister Carwyn Jones also stated his support for the City of Sanctuary movement and for Wales to become the UK's first nation of sanctuary.

In recent years, Christian organisations and individuals have been at the heart of services being provided to refugees and asylum seekers in Wales and are well respected in the sector.