Every year 29,000 asylum seekers flee persecution and destruction in their homeland and arrive here in the UK. They make a perilous and often fatal journey because they are desperate and have no choice. Have you ever had a nightmare where you’re stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea and there’s no safe place to go? Well, we can wake up from it, they can’t.
They leave their country, their home, where they may have been persecuted, threatened, tortured for something that’s just part of who they are – their beliefs, their political stance, their sexuality, ethnic group or just standing up for what’s right. They may have been caught up in turmoil and violence and want to protect their family. Sometimes their only choice is to escape. Ask yourself, if you were in that situation with your family, what decision would you make?
They brave a hard, dangerous and dehumanising journey which, in reality, many don’t survive, to reach the UK – my country.
When they arrive they are often met with hostility, prejudice and a system that seems set up against them.
Why is that? Why are we so convinced that these people have come here to take something from us? Do we ever consider what they might have to give? Why do we assume that they’re here because it’s an easy option? Maybe it’s their only option. Why are we convinced that they’re all bad and they’re all the same? Is that because we only listen to the lies the media tell us and are too afraid of what we don’t know to find out for ourselves?
Mark, Sarah and lots of volunteers run The Sanctuary project at The Gap Centre in Newport city centre (South Wales). They’re providing constant support and a sense of community and belonging to all asylum seekers. They invited me and my family to go along for the day, help out and spend some time with everyone.
First Mark took us on a tour of Newport, we could hardly walk ten steps without Mark stopping to chat to someone he knew from the centre, shaking hands, introducing us, asking them if they were coming for food later.
Once back, we were put to work moving tables, sorting through donations of books and cleaning bathrooms. We then all sat and chatted and ate and played card games before heading off to play badminton.
The whole time, we were made so welcome by everyone. Whether it was the guy who made the effort to teach me how to serve in badminton, even though I was useless (I got it down to a fine art in the end), the guy who took great pleasure in giving my brother Evan a traditional Kurdish haircut, everyone who sat and talked and made an effort to engage with us even though we didn’t always speak the same language, everyone who told us about their lives, their families and their culture. Even though you may feel you already know it, the whole afternoon just made us realise that we really are all just human beings – we all feel pain, we can all smile, we all have hopes and dreams.
I genuinely feel like I made friends. And I had so much fun, playing Uno and badminton and hanging out with all these people of all different cultures and backgrounds. Since when did different become bad? Different is amazing. We can learn so much from different. Different is just…different – not better or worse.
Thank you so much to Mark for inviting us and for telling us about all the incredible work that The Sanctuary do and for letting us get involved. Also thanks to everyone who welcomed us and made us feel like part of the family. All the best to all of you for the future ❤
What are your thoughts? Have you ever found yourself with a different perspective on something after spending time with people you wouldn’t usually hang out with?