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City of Sanctuary

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

Warsan Shire


Chris Holley was Council Leader when Swansea became a City of Sanctuary in 2010. Twelve years on, the need for places of safety is as acute as ever.

Last Friday, Chris attended the first “Swansea Voices” event and was among the audience for Roxana de Buitrago and Dr Tarh Martha Ako Mfortem who, along with their children, have sought sanctuary in Cwmbwrla and have stories to share.


Roxana brought her children Nathaly and Daniel to the UK when each day in her native El Salvador became a fight for survival. President Nayib Bukele swept to power three years ago promising a bright future to the country’s young people. The reality has been very different, and increasingly grim. Bukele launched a security crackdown in late March which saw 38,000 people arrested and detained without trial within weeks. Billboards urge citizens to inform on potential “terrorists” via a telephone hotline. Thousands have been taken away and many killed purely because they were disliked by an anonymous caller. Now thankfully out of reach of this waking nightmare, Roxana spoke eloquently of her hopes for her children, who are eager to contribute to the community that has welcomed them.


Martha’s native Cameroon has become a place of such hostility that Médecins Sans Frontières, the charity that provides medical aid to victims of war, famine and natural disaster, has been forced to suspend its work there. Medical staff seeking only to save lives are being held prisoner, accused of plotting against the government. Over half a million citizens have lost their homes in their country’s brutal war on its own people, and as Martha reminded us, one word of protest can be a death sentence. Martha’s daughters, Cindy and Emmanuella, are bright, hard-working students who want nothing more than an opportunity to learn, grow up in safety and live productive lives. Their new neighbours want that for them too.

Presenting Martha and Roxana with Community Champion certificates, Chris Holley reflected on the horrors of World War Two that led to the creation of the United Nations and the European Union, and the sad reality that those horrors are still with us today, just a few oceans and borders away.


Let’s take a moment to reflect that the word “refugee” derives from the word “refuge”. Have you ever been out walking and been caught in a rainstorm? Remember your relief when you arrived home, took a hot shower, dried your hair and put on clean, warm clothes? Imagine how different you’d feel if the door was closed to you, and you had no option but to keep walking in the wind and rain. Some people have kept walking through far worse. When they arrive at our door, is it really too much to ask that we open it?


Thank you to everyone who attended Swansea Voices last Friday. We look forward to seeing you again next time.


Thank you to Chris Holley for being a champion of this city and everyone in it for the past four decades.

Thank you to Roxana de Buitrago and Dr Tarh Martha Ako Mfortem for enriching our community.


Swansea is a city of sanctuary, and not only in name. Let’s keep it that way.






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