School of Sanctuary

23 07 18

Students at Llanishen High School have been campaigning to have their school recognised as a “school of sanctuary”. They were recently invited to the Welsh Assembly to present their project. This is student Elham’s account of the day.

Written by Elham Almasri, 10C

We, as a group of Schools of Sanctuary, were invited to attend The Welsh Refugee Coalition Annual Conference at The Senedd on Wednesday 24th of January. We took the chance to tell the people at the conference about what we had done in the 10 months since our  group first formed.

We had a 10 minute slot to talk about our achievements since we formed the Schools of Sanctuary group. We also talked about all the events we had been to such as the Wales as A Nation of Sanctuary Conference at the Temple of Peace and also about all the events we have organised in school such as The Great Gathering event in memory of Jo Cox. In addition we talked about our personal opinions towards the School of Sanctuary project and reflected upon what skills we had gained, what part had made the biggest impression on us and how we want our project to be developed in the future.

We were the first people to start off the conference and after we listened to many people who talked about themselves, whether that was about their experience as refugees or asylum seekers or about how they want to help refugees. Afterwards we met some people we knew from other meetings and made some new contacts with people we met at the conference.

I felt so proud about being invited to The Senedd to speak at the conference and I hope that our Schools of Sanctuary group will be invited to a lot more conferences and events so that we can gain experience and tell people about our achievements and, most importantly, so that we will be able to help more refugees and asylum seekers.

You can find out more about Schools of Sanctuary here.
You can find out more about HOPE not hate’s teacher training resources here.

Llanishen High School teacher, Sian – who has been supporting the students – attended our HOPE Camp in 2016. She said, “They are really proud of what they have done so far & it all started from the Hope not Hate conference & me meeting so many other passionate activists… thank you to all at Hope not Hate”. 

Sian has kindly shared the transcript from the first Assembly run by the students, where they shared their project with the rest of their schoolmates and peers.

Good morning.

We are the Llanishen High School School of Sanctuary group. We started this group in April of last year and we want to tell you why we started this group and of how you can help us.

In order for us to explain what we are about, we have chosen the main idea of ‘existence’ as our focus for this assembly, and what it is  to feel like you don’t exist. That nobody can see you, that nobody hears you, that nobody cares about your suffering or any of your other feelings. That you are invisible. (slide..When you don’t exist)

Some of you may remember this photo. (slide) It was on the front pages of all British newspapers and many other newspapers around the world on 2nd September 2015. The boys name was Alan Kurdi and he was a 2 year old boy who was fleeing war torn Syria with his mother, father and 5 year old brother, to reach safety in Europe. This is what their home town looked like when they left. (slide) They were crossing the Mediterranean sea in an inflatable boat at the time and could not afford to buy lifejackets. Alan drowned, as did his mother and brother.

At the time it caused global outrage and, for a short time, the world turned its attention to the plight of refugees, especially those who were a part of the Syrian refugee crisis, which has become the biggest humanitarian crisis of our era with over 5.1 million Syrian people having to leave their country, and millions more requiring humanitarian aid within Syria.

However, since that day when people around the world wept over the images of this drowned little boy and said ‘Something must be done..enough is enough..these people need help’….. sympathy has faded. Other things have taken over people’s attention…Brexit, the cost of living, Donald Trump’s tweets, and our general everyday business of getting on with our lives and preparing for our own futures. (SLIDE)

Yet, only last month, on one single day, the bodies of at least three refugee children were washed ashore on a beach in Lesbos. They died in the same way as Alan but there was no global outrage this time. It has now become so normal that nobody even remarks upon it anymore. How would we feel if those children were our brothers and sisters, our nephews and nieces..OUR children?

This crisis is still going on as we sit here in our nice, safe school surrounded by teachers who care about us, want the best for us and work extremely hard on our behalf to ensure we get the best possible chances to succeed in life and to achieve our dreams.

We started Schools of Sanctuary because we wanted to do something about this situation and, while we cannot physically go over to these countries and stop the conflict, there is a lot that all of us can do here, in Wales, in Llanishen High School ,to help those refugees and asylum seekers who are fortunate enough to reach the UK without losing their lives along the way.

Let us firstly check what is meant by the terms REFUGEE and ASYLUM SEEKER. (slide)

Imagine what kind of a welcome you would want if you had had to flee your own home and country under the most terrifying of circumstances…..

Suddenly you are free from the threat of bombs and shootings but find yourself in a foreign country with a language you cannot understand or speak and a way of life which is very different to your own. If you are an asylum seeker you are forbidden to work(slide) and earn any money and have to remain reliant on benefit payments until your case is reviewed and you receive refugee status, or not. What does this do to the dignity of a person?

Also, you can be moved by the Home Office to a new location in the UK at any time with little notice regardless of whether you may be a child just about to sit their GCSEs or somebody who has just settled into their new community and begun to make friends. It is impossible to make any progress in life.

This period of time of living in limbo can last for many years and can have hugely negative consequences for the mental health of those involved in the process. In addition to this, asylum seekers can, at any time, be taken and imprisoned in detention centres where they will have few rights, little access to legal support and other facilities such as the internet, washing machines and the opportunity to exercise, that many of us take for granted. Is it any surprise to learn that many of them are on suicide watch?

Instead of kindness and the hand of friendship …. many of these people have been met with hatred and violence. In April of last year, a 17 year Kurdish asylum seeker in Croydon was attacked and hospitalised just because he was an asylum seeker, and abuse and attacks directed at refugee children are becoming more frequent.

We are tired of seeing this horrible behaviour, this prejudice and the suffering it causes.

We want to say, loudly and clearly, that it is not ok to treat people like this, especially those who are the most vulnerable in society to start with.

We formed LHS SOS because we believe that we all have an individual responsibility to our fellow human beings. We want all displaced people to be treated in a way that we would want to be treated if we were in a similar situation and we want our school to be a place of welcome, belonging and sanctuary to all who come here.

This short video will show you more about what we mean by feeling like you don’t exist and of why it is so important that we help people feel that they DO exist, that they ARE welcome and that they DO belong.

Helping people feel like they belong can be as simple as smiling at them, letting them know that you are happy to see them, accepting them for who they are and making them feel good about who they are, making them feel special, valued and important and part of a bigger family. Taking an interest in them, inviting them to join your friendship group, learning some words from their language, being patient and helping them to find other ways to communicate which don’t rely on the English language. Helping them to feel positive about their present and their futures… them hope and encouragement.

Sometimes it requires courage to go out of your way and help somebody who is new to school, when sometimes, the easier thing would be just to turn a blind eye and get on with your own business.

But, what we do…… or don’t do…… makes all the difference to how somebody feels about their life, themselves and to their future chances of building a new life of peace and happiness. We have the power to change people’s lives for the better just by being friendly, caring and welcoming on a daily basis.

We know that we would all agree that it is what we would want if we were in the same circumstances. 

So, next time YOU come across a new pupil in your class, particularly one who doesn’t speak English, think twice before you mock them, make them feel uncomfortable with a nasty stare or an unkind comment, or target them just for being different. They could have come from a place like this. (slide of Aleppo)

If you would like to learn more about making LHS a School of Sanctuary and about the campaigns and projects we are currently involved in, please join us in one of our weekly meetings. You will be very welcome.


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