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Faith leaders call for action on Syrian refugees

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THE ARCHBISHOP OF WALES and other faith leaders are calling on the Prime Minister to increase urgently the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the download (9)UK in response to ‘one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our time’.

In an open letter to David Cameron, the Archbishop Dr Barry Morgan, the Head of the Jewish Reform Movement Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Bishop Declan Lang, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra,Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain and Co-Chair of the Christian Muslim Forum, express their support for a joint call from Amnesty International, the Refugee Council, JCore, Islamic Relief and Cafod for the UK to do more to help Syria’s refugees find safety here.

The letter comes ahead of the first anniversary yesterday (Jan 29) of the UK government’s announcement of a special resettlement scheme for the most vulnerable refugees from the Syrian conflict. A year on, Home Office figures show that only 90 people have been offered asylum here.

Nearly four years into the conflict, ten million people have been forced to leave their homes, nearly four million of whom have fled the country.The vast majority are living in precarious circumstances in Syria’s neighbouring countries, and many are struggling to survive in freezing temperatures.

The faith leaders say that the conflict in Syria is one of the ‘greatest humanitarian catastrophes of our time’ and that neighbouring countries are at the point of collapse from the sheer numbers of refugees they are hosting.

They say in their letter:

Many refugees have experienced persecution, torture or sexual violence, sometimes because of their religion or ethnicity, or have disabilities or other urgent medical needs which make them particularly vulnerable. Some will not survive the winter.

We are proud of the way in which the UK has led the world in its humanitarian aid contribution to the Syria crisis. However, our help cannot end with aid. We urge you to show the same leadership on resettlement so that more of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees can find sanctuary here in the UK.

We welcomed the announcement, a year ago, of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme but we are disappointed that only 90 refugees have so far been offered a safe haven here in the UK via this route. One year on, we urge you to take this opportunity to commit to offering resettlement places to thousands, not hundreds, of refugees from Syria.

In the face of a desperate and growing need, we believe that Great Britain has a moral responsibility to continue our noble tradition as a compassionate and welcoming safe haven for those in need of protection. As Prime Minister, you have the power to offer hope to people whose suffering is almost unimaginable to us. We ask you to do this today.

Amnesty International is calling on rich countries around the world to resettle five per cent of Syria’s refugees by the end of this year and a further five per cent by the end of 2016. The UK government has agreed to resettle only several hundred people over three years.

Other countries, including Germany and the USA, have promised to resettle thousands.

Excluding Germany, the rest of the European Union (EU) has pledged to take in a paltry 0.17 per cent of refugees from the main host countries.

In early January, Canada announced it would open its doors to 10,000 Syrian refugees

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said:“The UK government’s relief efforts in the region are to be commended but it is clear that so much more needs to be done to protect people fleeing the Syrian conflict, including those at risk of persecution due to their religion or ethnicity.

“A year on from agreeing to resettle hundreds of refugees, the UK should take this opportunity to up their game and resettle thousands of Syria’s most vulnerable. The UK has done this in response to other conflicts, what is stopping this government from doing the same?”

Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “A year ago the British Government made a promise to some of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees. We promised them safety. We promised them hope. We promised them a future. If David Cameron fails to significantly increase the scale of Britain’s resettlement scheme he will have broken that promise.”

Edie Freedman, Executive Director of The Jewish Council for Racial Equality said“We in the Jewish community know only too well the perils of being refugees and the indifference which too often meets their desperate plight to find sanctuary.

Syrians now make up the largest refugee group in the world. We appreciate that this is not a job for Britain alone, but we must do our fair share.”

Islamic Relief’s UK Director Jehangir Malik’s said told The Herald: “This is the world’s worst refugee crisis for generations, and we should do more to help the countries of the Middle East by hosting some of the most vulnerable of Syria’s refugees in the UK.

The refugees I’ve met with Islamic Relief in Lebanon have suffered unimaginable trauma and yet so many of them continue to suffer because the authorities are stretched to breaking point trying to meet their basic needs for food, warmth and shelter.”

Alan Thomlinson, Cafod’s Manager for the Syria Crisis, said:“The number of Syrian refugees accepted into Britain so far is woefully inadequate. Britain has a proud tradition of helping those in need, and – with no end in sight to the war – we need to show solidarity with the countries and communities that are bearing the brunt of this appalling crisis.”

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Pembrokeshire Bluetit Chill Swimmers successfully swim the English Channel

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Seven swimmers from Pembrokeshire have successfully completed their first cross-channel swim as a team representing the Bluetit Chill Swimmers.

“We are feeling amazing, elated, epic, achy, and exhausted,” expressed the team.

Setting off from Dover at 2:31 am last Wednesday morning, the women arrived in France at 7:54 pm that evening, after 17 hours and 24 minutes in the water. They swam in shifts of one hour, navigating through pitch-black early hours and encountering choppy seas during the journey. Despite seasickness and exhaustion, they supported each other throughout.

“For me, what was amazing was the constant support,” remarked team member Laura Voller. “Whether it was keeping warm with a blanket, or ensuring someone had food and drink when needed, there was always someone looking out for the team.”

The journey was far from straightforward. At one point, the safety boat’s pilot called swimmer Makala into the wheelhouse, expressing doubts about reaching France given the conditions and progress.

“I had a quick chat with the team and urged us to dig deep,” Makala recalled. “And we did just that.”

Reflecting on the challenging nature of channel swimming, Bluetits founder Sian Richardson noted, “It’s not glamorous; it’s about getting things done. We pushed ourselves to the limit. Despite fatigue, seasickness, and hunger, spirits lifted towards the end.”

Eva Rees, who made landfall in France, described the moment as a profound privilege. “To be the one landing the team was incredible,” she said. “I felt their support every step of the way.”

The Bluetits hope their achievement will inspire other cold-water swimmers worldwide to take on similar challenges. “Even if you think swimming isn’t for you, it’s achievable,” they affirmed. “We’re just ordinary people, but together, we’ve shown our endurance.”

Beyond their feat, the team aims to raise funds for water safety training across the global Bluetit community of 150,000 members and to equip the team with a portable defibrillator for events. They have already raised over £2,500.

To sponsor them, visit bluetit-channel-relay-swim.raiselysite.com/donate or click the link above.

Additionally, Jess is fundraising for Kidney Wales, while other team members are supporting Paul Sartori.

The team expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support and positive feedback on their videos during the swim, which bolstered their spirits throughout the challenging journey.

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‘A long way to go’ to eradicate racism in Wales

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WALES still has a long way to go to eradicate racism, a Senedd committee warned.

Jenny Rathbone led a debate on an equality committee’s report, entitled “Action, not words” following an inquiry on the Welsh Government’s anti-racist Wales action plan.

Ms Rathbone, who chairs the committee, said racism remains an all-too-familiar part of the day-to-day experience of far too many Welsh citizens.

She warned governance arrangements set up under the plan, which aims to make Wales an anti-racist nation by 2030, are far too complicated and risk being overengineered.

Ms Rathbone raised concerns about access to language interpretation in the health service, with family members, including children, too often being relied on as translators.

“It really is a breach of a person’s human rights not to have proper interpretation,” she said.

Ms Rathbone raised a Royal College of Nursing survey which found nearly half of Asian and black respondents had been bullied by colleagues, compared with 38% for white staff.

Turning to education, the Cardiff Central MS warned that many schools and colleges do not have anti-racism policies nor escalation mechanisms.

She said: “Race Council Cymru told us that many people from ethnic minority backgrounds don’t have confidence that education settings have effective policies to prevent racist bullying or micro-aggressions, and that these are dealt with effectively when they do occur.”

Ms Rathbone called for a consistent, pan-Wales approach to reporting anti-racist incidents in education similar to the Datix Cymru reporting system in the NHS.

Altaf Hussain, for the Conservatives, told the chamber Wales is among the most tolerant nations but, sadly, racism still exists.

“It is not the overt kind that is prevalent in our nation; it is the more covert structural racism,” he said, adding that the hidden nature of structural racism makes it difficult to tackle.

Mr Hussain, who represents South Wales West, warned that only a tiny percentage of teachers are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

“Last year, only 0.2% of the newly-qualified teachers were black,” he said. “Just 44 out of the nearly 1,500 newly-qualified teachers had a BAME background.

“How can we possibly hope to put an end to racism, discrimination and, ultimately, hate crime via education and celebrations of diversity if our teachers are not representative?”

Sioned Williams, Plaid Cymru’s shadow social justice secretary, warned of an “action gap”, saying progress on race-based prejudice and inequality has been too slow.

She said witnesses flagged funding as a barrier, quoting Ceri Harris, Betsi Cadwaladr health board’s head of equality, as saying she has had to beg, steal and borrow for initiatives.

Turning to criminal justice, Ms Williams said people from ethnic minority backgrounds are over-represented at all levels of the system.

She said: “In 2021, 51 out of every 10,000 black people in Wales were in prison, compared to 14 white people, and more black people were also under the care of probation services.

“The length of sentences is also longer for black people than white defendants. In the same way, the limited data available confirm high levels of disproportionality in the use of stop and search by Welsh police forces.”

Jane Dodds warned people from ethnic minority backgrounds continue to face disparities in housing, education, employment, health and justice despite pockets of progress.

The Mid and West Wales MS welcomed the ambition of the anti-racist action plan, stressing that it needs to “dismantle Wales’ racist framework”.

Ms Dodds said: “Complacency remains the enemy of progress and the committee’s report highlights the formidable challenges that the Welsh Government needs to surmount.”

The Lib Dems’ leader in Wales criticised ministers’ response to recommendations, accusing the Welsh Government of appearing to abdicate its role in improving strategic equality plans.

She added: “By rejecting the need for concrete timelines and binding commitments, the government further undermines confidence and risks allowing this blight to fester.”

John Griffiths focused his contribution on the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma community.

Warning their voices too often go unheard, the Labour backbencher stressed the need to combat discrimination against all sections of society in Wales.

Mr Griffiths, who represents Newport East, raised the children’s commissioner’s concerns about an unacceptable level of bullying faced by Gypsy and Traveller children.

He told the Senedd: “The level of exclusions is way beyond what we see for the rest of the population. That community is not represented amongst teaching staff

Mr Griffiths raised concerns about a lack of any spending from a Welsh Government pot specifically for sites for the Gypsy, Traveller community in the last financial year.

Responding to the debate on June 12, Lesley Griffiths said significant structural foundations have been laid for long-term change and tangible progress has been made.

The social justice secretary told the chamber a refreshed anti-racist Wales plan will be published this year, with goals and actions spanning the whole of government.

Ms Griffiths pointed out that Wales was the first UK nation to make the teaching of black, Asian and minority ethnic histories mandatory.

She added that the Welsh Government is also considering the recommendations of the children’s commissioner’s report which put a spotlight on racism in secondary schools.

In closing, Ms Griffiths said: “I’m committed to tackling systemic and cultural racism in all forms as a priority. What we need to do is absolutely use every lever available. We all need to take a leading role in eradicating racism here in Wales.”

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Stunning mural by local artist graces Tenby’s oldest pub

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THE WELL-LOVED Coach and Horses pub, Tenby’s oldest establishment, now boasts a stunning new mural by renowned local artist Lloyd the Graffiti.

The artwork, completed on June 12, has quickly become a beloved fixture in the heart of the town, capturing the admiration and praise of residents and visitors alike.

The mural, which features a vivid depiction of the iconic Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, pays homage to his legendary visit to the pub in 1953. According to local lore, Thomas became so inebriated during his visit that he left his manuscript for “Under Milk Wood” on a stool. Lloyd’s artwork brilliantly captures this slice of literary history, merging it with a vibrant portrayal of Tenby’s charming streetscape.

The mural’s unveiling has sparked an outpouring of positive reactions on social media, highlighting the community’s appreciation for Lloyd’s exceptional talent and the mural’s contribution to the town’s cultural landscape. Guy Manning commented, “Love it, absolutely wonderful!” JenksArt added, “Well done buddy! You smashed that about time Tenby had something like this in the heart of the town.” Amanda Absalom-Lowe expressed her admiration, “Lloyd you are such an amazing artist honest to go how do you just do it!? What a talent you have in this world and show it to the world!! Amazing.” Local residents have also been sharing their joy at seeing the mural come to life over the past few days: Sarah Bolwell shared, “So amazing! We’ve loved watching this progress over the last few days, what a brilliant addition to the street.” Kath Brown humorously recounted, “Whoop whoop you finished it! Well done, it’s been a real treat to watch the progress and heckle you as we’ve gone in and out!”

Anna Davies, a top fan, declared, “Wow that’s amazing it’s absolutely awesome such talent Lloyd the Graffiti Dylan Thomas lives on in Tenby for everyone to admire and talk about.” Other reactions included Nicola Newell: “Amazing,” Danielle Coles: “Brilliant,” Cheryl Hunt: “Stupendous,” Theresa Evans: “Shouldn’t they have a Welsh flag out the front?” Hazel Phillips: “Amazing,” and Penny Rossiter: “This looks amazing.”

Lloyd the Graffiti’s mural has not only enhanced the aesthetic appeal of the Coach and Horses pub but has also reignited the town’s enthusiasm for public art. Many residents hope this will be the first of many such projects, bringing more color and creativity to Tenby’s streets. As the mural continues to draw attention, it stands as a testament to the vibrant artistic talent within the community and the timeless allure of Dylan Thomas’s legacy. Visitors to Tenby are encouraged to stop by the Coach and Horses pub to experience this remarkable piece of art firsthand.

For those interested in seeing more of Lloyd’s work or commissioning a piece, he can be contacted through his social media platforms, where he regularly shares his latest projects and artistic endeavors.

These stunning pictures were taken by Gareth Davies Photography, Tenby.

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