We want Wales to be a true Nation of Sanctuary. To all refugees and asylum seekers who come to Wales: We’re honoured you have chosen our country to rebuild your lives and we want to support you.
Providing a warm welcome to new arrivals is an intrinsic part of who we are as a nation in Wales. We provide sanctuary for those who need it and opportunity for those with the skills to contribute to our economy and communities. Wales is richer for the contribution of migrants in economic, cultural and societal terms.
We are privileged that so many EU Citizens have chosen to seek Settled Status and remain with us here in Wales. We are continuing to support those who are yet to apply for Settled Status to submit late applications and to provide advice for those finding unforeseen issues after EU Withdrawal. EU Citizens are, and will always be, welcome here in Wales.
We are honoured that Afghan citizens who have arrived in Wales in recent months are learning both English and Welsh, and that some families are actively opting for a Welsh medium education. Migration enriches our culture rather than undermining it.
Canon Aled Edwards, Chief Executive of Cytûn, is one of many people in Wales involved in our National of Sanctuary ambitions. Below he shares a message of hope with us to mark International Migrants Day:
“One of Us”
As Christmas approaches – during difficult days – the expressions of hope are still there to see in our modern Wales enriched by diversity and enabled in so many ways by migration. Cultural expressions of how Wales is enriched by diversity are cause for celebration and delight this year. The placing of Betty Campbell’s statue in a place of honour in Cardiff’s Central Square has inspired many, as did the striking ‘My Cymru, My Shirt’ football mural on a city wall.
Wales has also applied its hands to the craft of welcoming others. Since August, Wales has taken further strides towards becoming a nation of sanctuary, welcoming Afghan refugees in its own distinctive way. There are many more expressions of hope to be found, but challenges also remain in the arena of racial justice and in the endeavour to welcome those who are new to Wales.
Wales still does tradition. On a Sunday morning just a few days ago, people gathered in a chapel on the outskirts of Cardiff to enjoy a traditional Sunday school nativity play. Words and names matter. The word “Advent” – a name given to a season – is derived from another place and a different people. The Latin word adventus carries the meaning of a “coming.” Over many centuries, we welcomed the word into Welsh and English. The ancient practice of the Christians of Spain and Gaul of using Advent as a time of preparation for baptism has faded a little in the memory, but that sense of a “coming” has endured. Without the migration of people and their words, the Christian faith would have withered into a distant past.
Heeding the traditional call of Advent, individuals and families gathered carefully that morning to remember the Christmas story. Using a letter from the Greek alphabet, a name has been given to an emerging unwelcome presence in our midst; we’ve called it Omicron. In the vicious face of Covid-19, our health service has been well served by our medical practitioners. We have called them heroes. Some of these heroes have been gifted to us by other nations and honoured for their service. Some will sadly be remembered for how they paid the price in such disproportionate numbers for their service. Men and women frequently given abbreviated names whose lives in all their fullness should never be forgotten.
Familiar Welsh words were used to tell the traditional Christmas story that morning. The words described contemporary lived experiences: poverty, homelessness and persecution, and refugee families taking flight to countries other than their own. Jesus was, after all, an asylum seeker. Friends gathered in a chapel around the hope offered by the birth of a baby who became one of us. With consent, I shared the story of an Afghan refugee family offered a new life in Wales. We have become friends. I shared a photo of their newly born son: one of us. As his father put it a ‘Welsh hero.’
A song came to mind. Back in 1995, the songwriter Eric Bazilian never intended his ‘One of Us’ to be a “religious thing”. He dared to ask questions around the thought that God could just be one of us.
“If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?”
The song is about something that totally changes your view of the world. It could be anything or anyone. The people who have chosen to make Wales their home are good at doing that. It is one of their many gifts. If we dare to let them.
Whatever your faith, I hope you all have a safe and peaceful Christmas following the end of a difficult year.
Canon Aled Edwards, OBE