Photographing the Oxfam Sanctuary Project

Photographing the Oxfam Sanctuary Project

Monday December 21, 2015

Understanding the Plight of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Wales

In 2015, I have had the great fortune to work with Business In The Community and Oxfam on the Sanctuary in Wales Project.  I have met some amazing and wonderful people and been told tales of suffering that I only thought existed in fiction novels.

During 2015 there has been a media and political storm with regards immigration.  Many of those seeking refuge are portrayed in an exceptionally negative manner and, due to recent events in Paris, even simply classified as terrorists.  I just wish that the people writing these articles could meet some of the women who took part in this project and listen to their stories.

Irrespective of media reports, all of the women I met would rather still be living in their native countries.  However, due to persecution, war and the constant threat of violence, they are unable to.  They have been forced to leave and have an opportunity to be somewhere that is safe.  This is a story that has blighted civilisation for centuries and one that has even more meaning at this time of year.

Many of the women have been separated from their husbands and families; they are often still in the country from which they have come.  In many cases, the women do not even know if their husbands are still alive.  Their flight to the UK and Wales has come out of desperation and we, as a country, have accepted them with compassion.

Contrary to reports, being a refugee or asylum seeker is terribly hard and they are not showered with state benefits and given jobs and homes.  There are many regulations and restrictions that are imposed until they are finally accepted, or not, into the UK.  This takes months, even years, and during that time I just do not know how they survive.  Life is anything but easy.

It is maybe ironic that the UK is already a country of immigrants.  Our history means that our blood is mixed with that of Romans, Celts and Vikings.  With regards to increased immigration, I am not absolutely sure what the British people are actually frightened of.  Is it losing our identity and, if so, what is that?  I have heard religion mentioned, but fewer people attend church today than ever before.

A presentation and discussion regarding Sanctuary in Wales was recently held at the Wales National Assembly, the Senedd, in Cardiff Bay.  I was there to photograph the event and had the opportunity to listen to the speakers and then the politicians.  I watched and listened from behind my camera and was not surprised to hear that there was a huge difference in political opinion.  In fact, one of the politicians even refused to have his photograph taken, which was a huge statement before he had even taken his seat on the stage.

There is no doubt that this is a complex and difficult issue, but we must never lose track of the reason why refugees and asylum seekers are asking for our help.  I am not a religious man, but the story of Joseph and Mary searching for somewhere to stay comes to mind.  They sought refuge and an Inn Keeper helped them.

Is it time that Wales became an Inn Keeper of modern times?

Paul Fears is a Commercial and Industrial Photographer based in South Wales.  He covers a wide range of press and PR assignments and further details are available on the website or by contacting Paul on:

Tel:  07909103789

Email:  paul@paulfearsphoto.co.uk

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