This article was written for Swansea City of Sanctuary.

When Atif was forced to flee his home country due to religious persecution he arrived in the UK with an uncertain future.  Two years on he and his family have been officially welcomed to Swansea at the Lord Mayor’s Tea Party.

Atif fled with his family from his home country two years ago.  His family suffered persecution because of their religious beliefs which resulted in his agricultural business and land being taken from him.  It was no longer safe for him to stay and he was forced to escape with his family under cover of darkness, travelling at night hidden under blankets.

They claimed asylum in the UK at Heathrow airport, were then sent to Cardiff for a couple of weeks, and finally onto live in Swansea where they waited to see if they would be granted refugee status. A refugee can be defined as a person who is in need of protection.

When they first arrived, he and his wife Saima were worried about what may happen to them.  He says, “We were scared about the future because my wife especially was thinking ‘what will we do if they sent us back’?  So that was the question.”

While the family were waiting for the decision they got involved in volunteering in the local community in Swansea.  Atif volunteered five days a week in the local Oxfam shop in Castle Street.  His wife joined Swansea College taking English lessons and has started learning tailoring at the African Community Centre. “We are trying our best to do something for the community, for the city.” he says.

He has found Swansea, the people and his church to be very welcoming. “The city’s beautiful, lots of beaches, but the thing that is the most attractive about Swansea is the people.  Here on the bus, on the road, everyone says hello, and when I’m on the footpath people always give a smile. So this is a good thing.”

In September his family received the decision.  Atif says, “We got the answer and received the papers. We are much happier now as we have refugee status”. They were invited to the Lord Mayor’s Tea Party hosted by Swansea City of Sanctuary, whose vision is to see the city become a place of welcome and safety for those fleeing persecution and war. The Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Ceinwen Thomas and her Consort, Mr. David Thomas welcomed newly status refugees and their families to the Swansea area at a civic reception.

­­Deputy Lord Mayor, Ceinwen Thomas said of the event that, “I was there to welcome them into the city on behalf of the City and County of Swansea and the residents of Swansea.  They all seemed to be enjoying and grateful that they can relax and be happy in their own environment.  These are people who needed a safe haven.”  In her speech at the event she said,

“We are very proud that Swansea is Wales’ first City of Sanctuary and the UK’s second.

“This [Tea Party] highlights the many significant ways in which sanctuary seekers and refugees have contributed to and become part of our rich history and heritage.  Our local communities and country as a whole benefits from this.”

It was at the Tea Party that Atif’s family felt they were now officially welcomed into the Swansea community.

Atif says, “To go to the Tea Party – it was really a great honour for us.  We feel the Government and the people have welcomed us here.  We now think we are officially part of Swansea.

“Nobody invited us to big meetings with Government people in our home country so this was our first time and we were really happy.  We got a certificate and shook their hands and had our photos taken.  They gave a certificate with a frame as well so I put it on the shelf in my house.  It made us feel properly welcomed and the Deputy Mayor opened the door for us.”

Atif has had a temporary job and is now looking forward to the future with possible job opportunities as a support worker in a nursing home.  His family are happy in Swansea and wish to stay in the area.  He says, “Our family and our children are very happy because in Swansea the people welcomed us, my neighbours are good and I also want to play my part in the prosperity in Swansea and this country.”