Refugees: Exhibition highlights Wales’ history of offering sanctuary as debate continues over UK government small boats legislation

Wales has a long standing tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing their native countries. For now, the focus is on Ukraine and various Middle-Eastern countries, but seeking refuge is not a new issue.

The exhibition, called ‘Refugees from National Socialism in Wales: Learning from the past for the future’, aims to display and convey the struggles of those who made the journey over, to start a new life in Wales.

The exhibition focuses on refugees who came over from Europe, escaping National Socialism, from the 1930’s until now. Various letters, drawings and items of clothes from this specific group of refugees are being showcased at the Senedd and The Pierhead, in Cardiff Bay.

A television program is also being shown at the exhibition, featuring the voices and experiences of various people, who tell their stories about what it was like being a European refugee in such a time.

In light of the new government legislation in the UK regarding people arriving by small boats, an exhibition like this is very topical. The new legislation sets out to:

  • Prevent people who come to the UK illegally from claiming asylum
  • Arrivals will be removed to a third country
  • Illegal arrivals will be banned from returning or claiming citizenship

There have been various reactions to the new legislation, especially within the Conservative Party. The Guardian reported that:

‘Priti Patel, quite ironically, was reported by The Times to have called it [the legislation] ‘window dressing”.

The Guardian

The same article also said ‘Senior Conservatives privately know it won’t work and are uncomfortable’.

The topic of people seeking refuge has been a widely debated subject in the UK for a number of years. With the crisis in Ukraine, there was a period of time where the UK seemed more welcoming to refugees than ever before.

However, many people are drawing parallels between the treatment of Ukrainian refugees in comparison to other refugees, with Syrian refugees as the main example.

The discourse claims that refugees who are white are more likely to be met with kindness and acceptance, than those from Muslim backgrounds.

An article called ‘Race culture and politics underpin how-or if- refugees are welcome in Europe’ includes a quote from Bulgarian Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov, and his distinction between Ukrainian refugees compared to others.

“These people are Europeans. These people are intelligent, they are educated people…This is not the refugee we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could’ve even been terrorists…”

With this new piece of legislation surfacing at the same time a new exhibition opens up to celebrate refugee stories, it makes it very clear that the divide in opinion is as ever-present as ever.

Categories: Cardiff, international

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