The blacksmith had never heard of Wales before he was told he was about to move there.
Mohammad Karkoubi had agreed to be part of a British government program to resettle Syrian refugees across the United Kingdom.
Accompanied by his wife and three children, Karkoubi was handed a welcome guide in Arabic on the flight over that explained that Wales was a small country with its own language, green mountains and lots of sheep.
Some three years later, Karkoubi works as a welder in a small workshop in Tregaron, a farming community in central Wales. As well as learning English, the native Arabic speaker is also attempting to master Welsh.
A 35-year-old Aleppo native, Karkoubi may be a way off from fluency, but his integration into the local community is what the Welsh government hopes all refugees will have the opportunity to achieveunder a new plan.
While countries throughout Europe haveclosed their borders to asylum-seekersand looked to discourage those who arrive from settling permanently, Wales says it is intent on becoming a “nation of sanctuary” for those fleeing war and persecution.
“There is a phrase, ‘Welcome to the valleys and the hillsides of Wales,’ because that is how we’ve always been — a nation that welcomes people,” said Jane Hutt, a veteran Welsh lawmaker who is responsible for implementing the program.
The Welsh government says it will continue to comply with U.K. immigration law stipulating who can come to Britain and what rights they have — in that sense differing fromsanctuary cities in the U.S. that limit cooperation with federal authorities.
Instead, the government’s 35-page plan focuses on how to deal with refugees and asylum-seekers already living in Wales. It has been endorsed by the United Nations and includes funding projects to find homes for newly recognized refugees, introducing mentoring programs to combat loneliness and mental health issues among asylum-seekers, and increasing access to language tuition to boost their chances of employment.
“Refugees and asylum-seekers are and will become doctors, carpenters, farmers, radiographers making a contribution to the community,” added Hutt, outlining her vision for the plan.
An understanding of Welsh culture, language and heritage is also encouraged in a country where people are greatly attached to their national identity after centuries warding off the dominance of neighboring England.
‘We understand how it feels to be disregarded as nobodies’
In Ceredigion County, where Karkoubi lives and works, the notion of a Welsh welcome is taken seriously.
“We understand how it is to be disregarded as nobodies,” John Jones, a retired teacher who was meeting a friend at the pub in Tregaron, said, referring to an understanding among the Welsh of what it feels like to be a minority next to the English.
In the coastal university town of Aberystwyth, where the Karkoubis live, many residents said they were pleased to have Syrians in their town.
Lucy Berridge, a construction worker, said anyone fleeing war or poverty should be welcome. “They’re only trying to make their lives better,” she said.Continue Reading