On 3rd April, over a hundred people came together in the Senedd to celebrate how far Wales has come on its journey to becoming a ‘nation of sanctuary’. Attendees included Assembly Members, senior health professionals, third sector representatives, people seeking sanctuary and volunteers involved in local welcome initiatives.
The vision of Wales as a ‘nation of sanctuary’ is of a whole country where people seeking sanctuary find people who welcome them, understand why they are here, support them and most important of all, actively include them as participants, volunteers and members, wherever they go.
As well as having four asylum dispersal areas (Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham) every local authority in Wales has now resettled Syrian refugee families. Wales has several recognised cities of sanctuary including Swansea, Cardiff and Wrexham, which aim to be ‘welcoming places of safety for all’, and in particular ‘proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution’. Countless other local sanctuary groups are working with organisations such as schools, universities, museums, and even a ‘Shop of Sanctuary’. New initiatives to create local places of sanctuary are springing up all the time.
Co-ordinated by the Welsh Refugee Coalition, and delivered in partnership with Public Health Wales, Cymru Well Wales, Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association, the Sanctuary in the Senedd event showcased how Wales is supporting the integration of sanctuary seekers regardless of how they arrived in the country or where they have come from.
The report Health Experiences of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Wales was presented by Dr Gill Richardson (Public Health Wales) and Dr Ashra Khanom (Swansea University). The report demonstrates the contribution of health services, particularly specialist asylum nursing services, to the effective integration and support of people seeking sanctuary in Wales.
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford AM, accepted a ‘Nation of Sanctuary map’ (picture), created at last year’s National Eisteddfod with messages of welcome in Welsh and other languages, from Jose Cifuentes, a political refugee from Chile.
Speaking at the event, the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt, celebrated the arrival of over 1000 refugees in Wales through resettlement programmes and thanked all the partners who had made this a success.
She said: “The test of today is to learn from each other what can be done to improve support for people seeking sanctuary in Wales. What unites us all is a common desire to improve the way we do things. Becoming a Nation of Sanctuary is the responsibility of everyone in Wales.”
The Welsh Government’s Nation of Sanctuary – Refugee and Asylum Seeker Plan sets out a number of actions to which the Welsh Government has committed, that will improve the support for people seeking sanctuary in Wales. The Plan was produced through consultation with over 100 people seeking sanctuary and many organisations working directly and indirectly with this group. Actions relating to health include reducing barriers to healthcare for asylum seekers and refugees, establishing mechanisms to promote sharing of good practice for improved health outcomes of people seeking sanctuary and reducing the prevalence of mental health conditions amongst this group.
The recommendations of the Health Experiences of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Wales report support the actions in this Plan, with specific recommendations on health literacy, mental health and collaborative working. Public Health Wales has already started the development of an e-learning module for NHS Wales staff, responding to the finding that training health professionals on the social and legal issues affecting people seeking sanctuary would improve support for people seeking sanctuary in health and well-being settings.
Dr Gill Richardson, Assistant Director for Policy, Research and International Development at Public Health Wales, said:
“Health and well-being are an essential part of the Welsh Government’s Nation of Sanctuary Plan. We know from our report, Health Experiences of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Wales, that people seeking sanctuary face many challenges to enjoying good health and accessing healthcare. Health sector professionals in Wales are committed to addressing these challenges to ensure that people seeking sanctuary have the same opportunities to enjoy good health as others in Wales, but we recognise there remains work to be done on this.’
The event also provided an opportunity for attendees to engage with a public awareness campaign around Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and find out more about how people seeking sanctuary could be better supported through trauma informed policy and practice. The Director of the ACE Support Hub announced that they will be working with Clearsprings Ready Homes, the accommodation provider in Wales for those awaiting the outcome of their asylum claim, to deliver trauma awareness training to staff working with asylum seekers.
Public Health Wales will be following up this event with an opportunity for health professionals to hear more about the Health Experiences of Asylum Seekers and Refugees report and discuss the next steps at a stakeholder event on Wednesday 22nd May. More details will be available in due course – to register interest, please email Rebecca Scott at [email protected].