Call for free Welsh lessons for refugees

Pro-refugee protest. Picture by Haeferl (CC BY-SA 3.0).

A Welsh language campaign group have called for free lessons for refugees.

Last year Wales’ Government announced that asylum seekers would be allowed to attend Welsh language lessons free of charge. Now language campaigners are calling for this scheme to be extended to also include refugees.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith are also calling for the Government to set up a fund to provide free internet access for refugees and asylum seekers so that they are able to attend online Welsh classes while social distancing rules remain in place.

A large number of refugees do not have regular access to the internet, and the Home Office does not provide wi-fi in refugee housing, they said.

Joseff Gnagbo, International Officer for language Cymdeithas yr Iaith, said that asylum seekers and refugees faced many of the same problems and injustices.

“The decision to provide free Welsh language lessons to the former, but not the latter, was always an arbitrary one,” he said.

“The Welsh Government has a policy of making Wales a Nation of Sanctuary – however, it appears at times that these are merely empty words. This is an opportunity for the Government to put flesh on the bones, to implement its stated principles of inclusivity and fairness, and to ensure that everyone, regardless of background, has access to the language.”

 

‘Mixed’

A new voluntary partnership was set up last year between the Adult Learning Wales, the Welsh Refugee Council and Cymdeithas yr Iaith, that provides access to SaySomethinginWelsh lessons free of charge for refugees and asylum seekers.

The success of this scheme, according to Joseff, proves that “there isn’t any reason why the Government shouldn’t give refugees the right to attend the free-of-charge Welsh lessons that are run by the National Centre for Learning Welsh.”

According to Cymdeithas yr Iaith, the Government’s record on this is mixed: although the Government did announce the policy of free Welsh lessons for asylum seekers last year, the Minister for the Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan, wrote to Cymdeithas yr Iaith in 2018, saying: “We do not want the system [of Welsh language lesson fees] to discriminate between any specific groups of learners.”

But with Government policy having evolved since then, the language campaigning group hopes to see further developments in the right direction.

‘Positive’

Mabli Siriol, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Education Group, said that refugees, such as Joseff, had inspired people across the country to learn and help raise people’s confidence in their language skills.

“Offering Welsh lessons free of charge to refugees would be an important way of including them in our society and realising the vision of making Wales a nation of sanctuary,” she said.

“We’re also calling on the Government to make internet access available to all refugees and asylum seekers so that they are able to access Welsh lessons online (with face-to-face lessons currently being unavailable due to Covid-19).

“Cymdeithas yr Iaith have called for all parties to adopt our vision of Welsh Language Citizenship for All before next year’s elections, so that the language can be extended to include groups that are currently excluded from it.

“Ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers have access to Welsh lessons free of charge would be a positive step towards realising this vision.”

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