Jenan’s story

By Zuzana Nevolová

Jenan has been living in Cardiff for ten years now. Being half British, half Iraqi, she has never had problems speaking both Arabic and English. But even though Arabic is – quite understandably – much closer to her heart since she has lived in Iraq most of her life, she feels very privileged to live in Cardiff. Many members of her family are forced to stay in the isolated city of Mosul, which is currently held by the so called Islamic state.

And so, despite being very much fluent in the English language, Jenan likes to speak with most of the family in her mother tongue, Arabic. Completely normal, isn’t it? But then her neighbour abused her for speaking Arabic in her own house!

A lady living just next door to Jenan’s house repeatedly demanded Jenan, and even her visitors to only speak English. Without any further explanation she shouted at Jenan and her little grandchildren when they were playing Arabic word games on Jenan’s porch. The neighbour said that as UK citizens, they should only speak English and basically tried to forbid them to speak another language on their own property.

This happened many times, and the neighbour made it clear that she resents the idea of being neighbours with an Iraqi.

Until then, Jenan had never had someone complain about the culture of her origin in Cardiff. She considers the people of Cardiff to be lovely and her neighbourhood to be exceptionally friendly. But as an exception to prove the rule, one of her neighbours did not share this friendly attitude.

The acts of intolerance coming from the neighbour have made Jenan feel unsafe. Unsafe to speak the language in her own home, unsafe in her own skin.

The repeated insults and utterly absurd demands forced Jenan to approach the hate-crime department of the Cardiff police. The officers reacted extremely quickly, inspected the situation and talked to the people who were involved. Despite the limited resolution possibilities, the police have gone out of their way to help and to prevent other incidents from happening not only by making a record of the incidents, but by repeatedly checking on the situation at Jenan’s house though phone-calls and general reassurance.

In fact, even the positive response from Jenan’s other neighbours was heart-warming and overwhelming supportive. Many of the residents expressed their consternation, brought Jenan and her family flowers to reassure her and a few of them even started studying Arabic with Jenan!

And therefore, thanks to her Cardiff community, Jenan feels supported and trusts that the police don’t overlook such incidents.

Because they shouldn’t ever be overlooked or underestimated.

 

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.  

Cardiff, a Place for Peace

By Belén Diez

As a volunteer working on the Wales for Peace Project, my main goal is to convey to readers the personal story of on the women refugees living in Cardiff. For the past few days I have spent a great amount of time with women from a wide range of nationalities (Algeria, Libya, Zimbabwe…), all of whom have something in common: they ran away from violence in their native countries and they all have found in Cardiff a place where the have built their homes in peace.

As a personal choice I decided to tell the story of a Syrian woman. In contrast to all the stories about fear, pain and sadness that we hear in the media everyday, I want to convey a story of hope, respect and understanding.

Interviewing the protagonist of my story has not been easy at all, I still wonder why she feels shame because what has happened is not her fault but, in any case, I can understand that her story is not easy to tell. Finally, she agreed to tell her story through one of her friends that I had the chance to meet in the non profitable organization Woman Connect First.

Lets call her Irene because Irene, in its original Greek language, means peace and peace is what this story is about.

Aged 32, Irene came to the United Kingdom three years ago running away from the horror and panic of the Syrian Civil War. Its more than 2,370 miles of fear, fear for what you have left behind but also fear about what awaits for you in your new destination but also of expectation and hope: nothing can be worse that facing the war every day.

Her first residence was in London, but she couldn’t find a home there. Some episodes of racism and the high cost of living made London a hostile place for her, so she decided to move to Wales. In Cardiff Irene has found a place where she can live in peace. Indeed, most refugees I met highlight that Cardiff citizens have a high sense of tolerance.

Just a few months after moving to Cardiff, Irene was hired as a teacher in an Arabic school as well as a babysitter. With her work she can afford the cost of the rent of her apartment and support her family. However, what she most likes in Cardiff is its open-minded people, always willing to integrate, regardless of nationality, language, religion or skin colour. Here kindness is the only response to diversity.

“Do you think that the local Government is working hard in improving and promoting the integration of refugees?” her answer is absolutely positive, pointing out that legislation on rights and the creation of a budget for rental assistance are the main paths used in order to support real integration.

The last question of the interview is whether she prefers to live in Cardiff or in Syria and the answer comes out from her mouth clearly and unhesitatingly: Syria is my home, it is where I grew up and is where my family and my memories remain, “Coming back to Syria would be a miracle.” Meanwhile, Cardiff gives her a place to live in peace, to enjoy the feeling of being part of a community. In her own words: “here, I have rights”.

From my personal view, the greatest achievement is that local citizens feel proud to live in an environment of diversity and multiculturalism; this ensures respect, understanding and peace.

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.  

From war to Olympic glory, the Refugee Olympic Team are competing for tolerance

Rio2016.jpg

By Fflur Jones

“We were the only four who knew how to swim. I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm. It was three and half hours in cold water.” This is 18-year old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini explaining how her Olympic sport of swimming, saved her life whilst crossing the freezing Aegean Sea as she pushed a sinking dinghy to sanctuary saving 20 other lives.

Among the 200+ countries and territories competing in the Olympic Games in Rio, Mardini’s team stands out: Refugee Olympic Team (or ROT). The International Olympic Committee announced in March the creation of this team, the first of this kind, made up of 10 members who fled from 4 different countries: South Sudan, Ethiopia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The IOC’s open minded decision to include these athletes in these games comes at a period when refugees have been breaking records and not Olympic ones. Today, according to the UNHCR 63.5 million people have been displaced by conflict and persecution with 15 million refugees worldwide. 60% of these refugees come from 5 specific countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

Each member’s road to Rio has been an uphill battle from the start, having to flee persecution whilst at the same time completing the gruelling training needed to secure a spot at the Olympic Games. Yet in the face of rising anti-immigration and xenophobic feelings in many developed countries can this team really change attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers?

Anti-immigration and racist sentiments have been growing in parts of Europe and the United States. Last year a renovated shelter destined for asylum seekers in the town of Vorra in Germany was subject to an arson attack, and many eastern European countries have used tear gas to prevent groups of refugees from crossing their borders. Time and time again we have heard the growing concerns over the mass of asylum seekers “flooding” the UK. In reality, refugees represent 0.19% of the UK’s population, whilst in Lebanon, a country 23 times smaller, 1 in 5 people are refugees. But despite these relatively low numbers, some British citizens still feel threatened by a mass influx of refugees, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council reporting significant increases in hate crimes nationwide since the Brexit vote. On the other side of the pond, Donald Trump’s angry rhetoric on Muslim communities and immigrants is also spreading like wildfire. This toxic mix of anger, hate and xenophobia has seemed to dominate recent headlines. But the Refugee Olympic team are hoping to challenge people’s views and opinions on the millions of refugees worldwide at this year’s Olympics.

IOC president Thomas Bach said that “By welcoming the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, [he wants] to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world. Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem.”

This message has been embraced by all the team’s members; Popole Misenga, a ROT member from Congo (Judo) said that the team were “fighting for all the refugees in the world”.

Mardini, when asked if her experience of pushing the dinghy was traumatic responded with her trademark positivity: “Not at all. I remember that, without swimming, I would never be alive maybe because of the story of this boat. It’s a positive memory for me.” Very few Olympians can claim that their sport has saved their life.

She’s also stood up in defense of the refugees across the world saying that she “want[s] [Olympic fans] to think that refugees are normal humans that had to leave their homelands. Not because they wanted to, not because they wanted to be refugees or run away or have drama in their lives. They had to leave. To get a new life. Get a better life”.

Hers is not the only story of survival in the team. James Chiengjiek fled South Sudan at age 13 to avoid being forced into service as a child solider. Popole Misenga’s mother was murdered when he was a child in Democratic Republic of Congo; Yonas Kinde feared for his life in Ethiopia and eventually fled to Luxembourg. Each of member of the team bring their own story, their own culture and their own message to these Olympics. As Yusra Mardini said:  “We don’t have the same language. We’re all from different countries. But the Olympic flag united us together, and now we are representing 60 million [people] around the world. We want to show everyone that we can do anything. Good athletes. Good people.”

The Refugee Olympic Team are not only the flag bearers for millions of refugees across the world but are also carrying a message of hope and tolerance at a time when it is so desperately needed.

Warm welcome to Belgian Refugees in Rhyl, 1914

Cymraeg

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Clear newspaper and photo evidence shows the warmth of welcome to Belgian refugees in Rhyl 1914. “We doubt whether, in the history of Rhyl, such a huge demonstration depicting sincerity and enthusiasm has been witnessed. For days the event had been patiently awaited, and the house on the East Parade set up as a home for the homeless, was literally besieged with enquirers anxious to learn when the party were expected, and the great interest culminated in a memorable scene outside the Railway Station on Tuesday. At least 200 people assembled, not to mention the many thousands that lined the route all along the High Street.” The Rhyl Journal 10/10/1914.


Croeso cynnes i Ffoaduriaid Belgaidd yn Y Rhyl, 1914

Dengys y dystiolaeth yn y papur newydd ac mewn ffotograffau y bu i’r ffoaduriaid o Wlad Belg dderbyn croeso cynnes iawn yn y Rhyl yn 1914. “We doubt whether, in the history of Rhyl, such a huge demonstration depicting sincerity and enthusiasm has been witnessed. For days the event had been patiently awaited, and the house on the East Parade set up as a home for the homeless, was literally besieged with enquirers anxious to learn when the party were expected, and the great interest culminated in a memorable scene outside the Railway Station on Tuesday. At least 200 people assembled, not to mention the many thousands that lined the route all along the High Street.”  The Rhyl Journal 10/10/1914.

https://refugeesinrhyl.wordpress.com/rhyl/

 

Eisteddfod Chair carved by Belgian refugee

Cymraeg

map-9At the Cemaes Heritage Centre you will find an interesting bardic eisteddfod chair, carved by Emile de Vynck, a Belgian refugee. The three women in traditional Welsh dress are particularly appealing. The given poetic theme, for the 1923 national eisteddfod at Cemaes, was a tribute to the late Rev John Williams Brynsiencyn, a key supporter of David Lloyd George in encouraging young men to enlist in WW1. The chair was won by Rev WE Penllyn Jones. There are further links to Lloyd George, as de Vynck was one of the Belgian refugees accommodated in the Criccieth area and supported by commissions from Lloyd George’s acquaintances.

Further Information


Cadair Eisteddfod wedi’i cherfio gan ffoadur Belgaidd

Ceir yng Nghemaes gadair eisteddfodol hardd a naddwyd gan Emile de Vynck, ffoadur o Wlad Belg. Mae’r tair gwraig mewn gwisg draddodiadol Gymreig yn drawiadol iawn. Testun yr awdl fuddugol gan y Parch WE Penllyn Jones yn yr eisteddfod genedlaethol yng Nghemaes 1923 oedd teyrnged i’r diweddar Barchedig John Williams Brynsiencyn. Mae cysylltiadau cryf i David Lloyd George gan y bu de Vynck yn ffoadur a dderbyniodd croeso yng Nghricieth a nawdd cyfeillion Lloyd George, ac y bu’r Parch John Williams yn flaenllaw ei gefnogaeth i ymdrechion Lloyd George i recriwtio milwyr ar gyfer y rhyfel.
Gwybodaeth Ychwanegol

Menai Bridge information

Cymraeg

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Residences for Belgian refugees in Menai Bridge included 7 & 8 Nant Terrace, Preswylfa, & Bod Idris. Further local research could identify these houses but it appears that the Nant Terrace houses would be where the car park is today. Surnames mentioned in the area include: Fredrinca Henrica De Groote, Julian Augustus & Irena Maria Esther & Vabrulina Valentina Stephania Acken, Honk De Groof, Jeanne Vloebergh, Albert & Francois Crol, Alphonse Van Camp, Maria Verlinder, Elizabeth Van Rode, Jeanne Crol, Louise Dons, Mr Pelsmaeker. Jas G Bacon, Mariette & Roger & Gabrielle Goto. Visit Anglesey Archives for further research and school log books.

Gwybodaeth Porthaethwy

Porthaethwy: Bu ffoaduriaid o Wlad Belg yn byw yn 7 & 8 Nant Terrace, Preswylfa & Bod Idris. Gydag ymchwil pellach bydd modd adnabod y cartrefi hyn ond ymddengys fod gweddill Nant Terrace bellach yn faes parcio. A ganlyn ceir enwau a welir mewn llyfrau log yn berthnasol i ardal Porthaethwy yn Archifdy Môn. Fredrinca Henrica De Groote, Julian Augustus & Irena Maria Esther & Vabrulina Valentina Stephania Acken, Honk De Groof, Jeanne Vloebergh, Albert & Francois Crol, Alphonse Van Camp, Maria Verlinder, Elizabeth Van Rode, Jeanne Crol, Louise Dons, Mr Pelsmaeker. Jas G Bacon, Mariette & Roger & Gabrielle Goto.

 

The Davies sisters Gwendoline and Margaret

Cymraeg

The Davies sisters Gwendoline and Margaret did much to support Belgian Refugees in Wales with a particular interest in artists and musicians. Under the direction of Dr Rhian Davies, the 2014 Gregynog Festival included music by Belgian refugees who came to live in Powys and Ceredigion in October 1914, including Eugène Guillaume and Nicolas Laoureux.


Gwendoline a Margaret – y chwiorydd Davies

Cefnogodd y chiworydd Davies o Llandinam, Gwendoline a Margaret, y ffoaduriaid o wlad Belg o’r RhB1af, yn enwedig yr artistiaid a cherddorion. O dan arweiniad Dr Rhian Davies, roedd Gwyl Gregynog 2014 yn cynnwys cerddoriaeth gan ffoaduriaid Belg a ddaeth i fyw ym Mhowys a Cheredigion yn 1914, gan gynnwys Eugène Guillaume a Nicolas Laoureux.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-26648316