Page last updated at 08:43 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 09:43 UK

City aiming for sanctuary status

Nick Parry
BBC News website

Amani Bakhiet
Amani Bakhiet represented Swansea's Sudanes community at the event.

Organisers of refugee week in Swansea hope this year's event will leave a lasting legacy as they work to achieve City of Sanctuary status.

Like Fairtrade, where a commitment is made to use and sell certain goods, the movement aims to link towns and cities that have a culture of hospitality for refugees and asylum-seekers.

Swansea aims to follow in the footsteps of Sheffield - the UK's first.

But to do this it must achieve a number of goals.

Amani Bakheit who is originally from Sudan is among the working group.

She arrived in Swansea with her children five years ago as an asylum seeker and has since gained refugee status.

"It's really hard when you first come to a new place - you don't know anyone, you don't know the culture or where to go, what to do or how to deal with everything," she said.

Initially she said she would introduce herself as asylum seeker.

"I thought everyone would welcome that and feel like I needed hospitality and welcoming.

'City of Sanctuary' is a place where a broad range of local organisations and faiths as well as local government are publicly committed to welcoming and including people seeking sanctuary.
The movement began in October 2005 in Sheffield
In September with the support of the council and over 70 local community organisations Sheffield became the UK's first official 'City of Sanctuary'

"But I noticed when I said I was an asylum seeker people would step back and then I knew it was not a good thing."

Ms Bakheit said during her time in Swansea she felt attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees had become more tolerant and there were many things the city did well.

"When I first came there were few black people but [now] there are a lot of different nationalities and colours and I think people in Swansea are more welcoming.

"It was a big headache for me how my children would manage.

"I came in July and school started in September. The head teacher was amazing. The way he talked to me, the way he comforted me and the way he allayed my fears."

She said there was good provision for the access of health care and other services.

But according to Ms Bakheit there was still some way to go in integrating all communities in the city.

"I would like to see asylum seekers and refugees interact more with local people.


"Join them in their organisations and activities so they can get to know them and consider them like their own people.

"The ideal of the city of sanctuary is to build a culture of hospitality."

The initiative is being backed by Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers' Support Group.

Alan Thomas said a working group has been set up following a seminar at the National Waterfront Museum.

"We have given ourselves the target of meeting the criteria within a year," he said.

He said the first step was to get a large number of organisations such as the city council on board.

Mr Thomas said Swansea then had to demonstrate that the commitment was meaningful and there were opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to interact in all aspects of life from the arts to sport to education.

"Many things are already happening anyway," he said.

"At the meeting there was a feeling that a majority of people on a basic human level are sympathetic."

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