We’ll Keep a Welcome and Green, Green Grass of Home are songs about hiraeth. They suggest that the people who left the land of my fathers and are longing for home will always be welcome there.
Maybe it’s true for the Wales-born. But when it comes to welcomes, modern Wales is a place of conundrums. It’s a place of much beauty, culture, and kindness, with a warmly beating heart. But it’s also a place of poverty, xenophobia, and narrow-mindedness. The two sit side by side like a ticking time-bomb. This dichotomy is very much raised to society’s surface when people seeking asylum are under discussion.
Focusing fears on asylum seekers
The referendum on EU membership seven years ago today opened up these simmering differences. It suddenly became the norm to talk openly about immigrants and asylum seekers in a discriminatory way, telling them to stay away or, if they were already here, to go home. “Go home, Polish.” People from minority communities who are British-born, sometimes whose families have been here for generations, are told to “go home” too. EU citizens who have lived and worked and raised families here for decades have had to apply to stay, or return to countries they no longer have homes or lives in.
A situation in Llanelli currently is feeding into this narrative. The news that a hotel in the town will house 207 asylum seekers has been met with serious opposition. A local campaign group called the Furnace Action Committee was quickly established, named after the village on the outskirts of Llanelli where the four-star Stradey Park Hotel is located. There have been demonstrations outside the hotel, one involving the far-right group Voice of Wales leaving after a non-violent standoff with local people who signalled that asylum seekers were welcome.
Although immigration policy is not devolved, the Welsh Government published a plan in 2019 outlining assistance for asylum seekers settling in Wales. It stated its commitment to making refugees and asylum seekers welcome. The Nation of Sanctuary document detailed planned work across Wales to ensure that inequalities experienced by refugees and asylum seekers are reduced, access to opportunities is increased, and relations between social cohesion and relationships between Welsh society and newer arrivals are improved. Civil society groups across the nation are working together to make Wales the world’s first nation of sanctuary.
To some degree the opposition by the Furnace Action Committee is understandable. The plan was imposed by the Home Office in London; there has been no consultation with local people or public debate, and the area is feeling the pinch with the cost of living and inflation crises.
Imposition and opposition
As the group’s spokesperson Robert Lloyd told Nation.Cymru, “Apart from the shocking lack of consultation, we don’t think it’s the right place to house so many asylum seekers together. It would place an intolerable extra burden on local public services and could double the size of Furnace. We aren’t against asylum seekers coming to Carmarthenshire and support the county council’s dispersal programme that has been very successful.”
The Welsh Government has said, “We expect the Home Office to work with us and local government to seek a constructive way forward. It is critical the Home Office provides full clarity to ensure plans are viable.” The majority of Senedd Members voted to reject the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Bill earlier this week.
Another local group, Stand Up to Racism Llanelli, which outfaced Voice of Wales, has issued the following statement about a march to take place this weekend:
However reasonable the Furnace group’s concerns they are, as the image above suggests, creating platforms that less reasoned and informed views hop onto. For example, their petition directed at Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman to halt the plan has attracted statements in the comments section which are ill-informed or outright offensive. Unfortunately, what has unfolded is a debate across social media platforms that is often devoid of facts and common sense. There is online hatred, racism, and discrimination.
The few sensible points made are often drowned out or shouted down. These include valid concerns and curiosity about the financial background to the hotel, which may possibly have connections to Russia, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) and the local MP. It does seem odd that the Home Office would select this particular hotel. So far it is not responding to LDRS queries.
Divide and rule
That this is Home Office policy created to divide and rule has been lost. This is a diktat which doesn’t take into account that everybody concerned, asylum seekers and the community, deserve consideration of their best interests. Why house hundreds in a four-star hotel, in an community with no say in the matter? The asylum seekers have no say, either.
I believe that is the strategy: to add fire to the already toxic debate on immigration. Meanwhile, somebody is making money off these people, and it isn’t the locals.
Write to your local councillors, MP, the Senedd, the Home Office, if you have questions, and find out the facts. Find out the proper terms used to define these matters. Don’t conflate issues. Don’t focus your fear and concerns on vulnerable people fleeing war, famine, and desperation. They deserve your empathy, not hatred.
Immigration is a good thing. Every country needs it, not just for the economy but also culture, diversity, blended lives and families. It opens hearts and minds to others, wherever they are from. We Welsh need to think long and hard about the welcome in the hillside, for we have historically and currently a huge diaspora ourselves. How we behave towards the most vulnerable, how we act online and in person, is crucial. It says everything about us as a country.
Let’s focus on the right thing to do: to keep a warm, open, compassionate society where all feel they belong. Remember, what you think of as your nothing is still more than that of an asylum seeker, who really has nothing, not even a country.
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