This week is Refugee Week, as part of the events, Ruth Mosalski met with two refugees one who has been in Wales for 30 years, and one who hopes she will be allowed to make this her home.
Wales has changed a lot in 30 years. Mrs. Thatcher is no longer Prime Minister, prescriptions don’t cost £2.40 anymore, and Coventry definitely didn’t win the FA Cup this year.
But for two people who have fled their countries, one thing hasn’t changed – it’s Wales being a welcoming nation.
Larysa Agbaso is a 40-year-old who fled her native Ukraine three years ago. Eid Ali Ahmed is a 68-year-old who left his native Somaliland in 1987.
She fled her home in the Ukraine three years ago facing persecution and fearing the war tearing up her country.
He too fled war.
While Eid had been given refugee status within a year, three years on Larysa is still waiting to find out if she will be given refugee status in Britain.
She was moved to Newport, a city which has welcomed her with open arms.
The pair met last week as part of a Red Cross initiative called The Conversation where refugees and asylum seekers sit together to discuss their shared experiences.
As Larysa spoke to Eid about her home country and her family, she broke down in tears.
She came to the UK three years ago with her family. Her husband is Nigerian and they have three children.
“We had problems in the Ukraine because of our race and conflict in our town between Russia and the Ukraine.
“I miss my parents and my friends but I when I think of my house and everything being happy, it is still in my mind. I wish I would not see it again – I want to keep it in my mind the way I saw it the last time.
“As the war started everything was destroyed. I don’t want to see the place, it’s in my mind like it was.
“You try not to remember it and to tell your children that place doesn’t exist again, to try and forget but then they tell you they remember that place and what they did with their grandparents.”
Eid could sympathize, telling Larysa his own story of heartbreak at being separated from his family and in particular his mother.
“I remember I was in a telephone box, I put the money in and I called her. She was with her family. When I heard her voice I cried. I was shouting. Then, while I was crying and shouting, a policeman tapping my back and he said are you alright, and I looked at him and said I am and then I saw all the people there.”
Eid said that it was Wales’ history that made it a more tolerant place. When he arrived there was already people from across the world here.
Both talk in glowing terms of the Wales they moved to.
Eid can recall going to Norway on holiday and the reaction being a million miles from the one he experienced in Wales.
“In Oslo, there were very few black people, but I went to another town where there were no black people at all. When I arrived they were all waiting. It was a small town and so many people waiting to look at me and some even wanted to touch me because they hadn’t seen a black person before. But now Norway has so many black people with refugees of different nationalities.
“It was just something new for them to experience. In Africa it was the same for white people,” he said.
Larysa too has seen a welcoming multi-cultural country. In the Ukraine, she says her children were victimized because of their race.
“The most important thing for my children is that they feel respected here. They can go to school and go to school themselves. Back home, when I had to take them to school and back because we were afraid of people who would attack them because of their race. They have freedom and feel welcomed”.
She said: “When we came her the first thing I was impressed with was the multi-cultural society. I can say it was the first time we had experienced going out and nobody was looking at us and staring at the kids. Nobody was pointing at my husband. I was amazed by the attitude of people. We obviously had a completely different lifestyle over here. We had to claim asylum but we’re still in that process three years on”.
When Eid came to Britain, he admitted gaining refugee status was “easy” – easier for people trying now – but getting a job wasn’t.
“This country wasn’t new to me. I studied here before and also I came here as a visitor. When my country went to war, it was destroyed. I didn’t have a choice. I came here and I settled down. I had good qualifications but I wanted to work in the banking sector. I couldn’t get a job that was the problem with me. I had good qualifications and good jobs but I couldn’t get a job. It was a problem.”
He became a teacher, something Larysa dreams of.
“Volunteering is the first stage. I was trying to get a job in banking and I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do so I started volunteering. You get experience and you get to know people and get to know how this country works and to know the system,” he said.
Larysa volunteers as a teaching assistant with the Red Cross and at a college. “I used to work in a school for 10 years back home. I used to teach English in a primary school, college and secondary school but it was a completely different experience.
“I had good students of the same nationality and the same cultural background and the same native language. After I started volunteering here I met people from different countries with different knowledge and culture. My determination is to continue teaching and to do a teaching course”.
Hearing Eid’s story gives her hope, she says. “It helps to hear stories like yours. I feel hope that one day that the stress will be over. It’s very inspiring the hope you give other people.”
For Eid, he hopes his story can offer hope. Refugees and asylum seekers have already given up plenty to be here.
“You lose your country, where you are born, your friends. It isn’t easy. You’re changing your whole life.”
Both Eid and Larysa left their home countries. They both had to adapt to life in a new country.
For Eid, it was the food and drink that were the biggest changes.
“The very strange thing to me was the accent. I did my GCSEs in Somaliland, we did our English and geography there. When I came here because of the accent. Even now it sometimes happens. For that, you sort of think you know the English language and people don’t understand you. The other thing is I think we drink a lot of tea here, there was a lot here, with the cups.
“Mainly the food – it was fish and chips and you have to cook yourself and I’d never cooked before. It caused me a problem. Everything is in a hurry. Back home or in Africa or Arabia, you’re a bit relaxed.
“That was another issue – you have to change your mindset because everything is fast. Now when I go to Somalia I am more British – I’ve been her 30 years.
“When I go there, I am acting differently and going to see them, talking different ways and acting different ways. If you ask me ‘are you Somali or are you Welsh?’ I would say I am both.”
Larysa remembers the beauty of Wales when she first arrived.
“I remember seeing very beautiful breathtaking landscapes. Everything was green and is green now. It was really beautiful. It was like something from a game – it was something unreal and unusual. In our country, the green grass and leaves don’t stay long. Only in May and then the sun is too hot and everything changes to yellow. I was impressed by it. It was green all the year round. I was impressed with the attitude of people. They were polite and quiet and not noisy like over there. They were very friendly and very multi-cultural.
Eid added: “Wales is a welcoming nation. When I couldn’t get a job I changed my career. I had to. Be energetic – there are opportunities in this country,”