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Opinion

Llanelli – The voice of love and compassion you’re not hearing

25 Aug 2023 5 minute read
Photo of a demonstration on June 4 about the use of Stradey Park Hotel for asylum seekers

There has been a voice missing in the local and national coverage of the protests surrounding the housing of refugees at Stradey Park Hotel, Llanelli – the voice of those standing up to the rise of fascism and racism to provide a place of sanctuary and peace for asylum seekers.

The stories and pictures of protestors objecting to the housing of asylum seekers in the hotel, holding signs saying “No Illegal Immigrants”, “All Lives Matter” and “No Nation of Sanctuary” have filled our local newspapers, national news and social media feeds for months.

Initially the protests grew out of concerns from the local community that were kept in the dark about the Home Office’s plans to turn the hotel into temporary accommodation for refugees, a community who had the decision thrust upon them with no consultation and no information.

However, the legitimate frustrations and concerns of local residents – let’s be clear this is a plan that doesn’t work for anyone, for the people losing their jobs of for the asylum seekers being housed in unsuitable housing – were soon hijacked by far-right groups to spread their agendas of fear, racism and aggression.

Over the past few months, we have seen racist and fascist groups Voice of Wales, and Patriotic Alternative descend on Furnace and Llanelli to spread their hate-filled rhetoric, and the town has received unwelcome visits from the Little Veteran and Katie Hopkins.

But throughout this there has been a strong voice for compassion, love and justice that has received little airtime.

Local people, supported by groups such as Stand up to Racism Llanelli, Hope not Hate and TUC Cymru, have countered demonstrations from the far right, standing just across the road from them in a show of peaceful defiance against their fascist messages. Holding placards of “Croeso” and “No Human is Illegal”, spreading kindness, and standing in solidarity with all those facing persecution.

Welcoming

These people are following Llanelli’s historical reputation as a welcoming community who fight for justice.

Llanelli has a diverse population, and like many industrial towns across South Wales, has benefitted from people migrating from across the world bringing their labour and skills to our industries and factories.

Llanelli became a new home to hundreds of refugees during the Second World War, and more recently, as the number of wars across the world increases, the town has provided sanctuary for families fleeing from Syria and Ukraine.

Llanelli is also a town with a strong history of working-class solidarity, and standing up for what is right. From the destruction of toll gates by the Rebecca Riots, to the 1911 Llanelli Railway Riots which saw hundreds of people strike and prevent the passage of trains through the station over low wages.

In the same year, 30 school children walked out of Bigyn School over the “unjustified” caning of a fellow pupil. In the late 1930’s four men from Llanelli fought with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, fighting against fascism faced by others.

History proves that Llanelli is a strong community that rises in the face of adversity. It is important now to make sure its unshakeable resilience is not used for the wrong fight.

It is understandable to be angry at the loss of the hotel, which has been a long-standing community asset, and of course we are sad for our families, friends and neighbours who have lost their jobs. But this anger should not be turned towards families seeking sanctuary in our town.

Point this frustration at the Home Office and their cruel and illegal policies, to the owners of the hotel, Gryphon Leisure, for the heartless treatment of their staff and putting profit before people, and to the far-right groups who are hijacking this anger and frustration to push their hateful and divisive propaganda.

Helpless

So, for anyone in Llanelli reading this, who has felt helpless in the face of xenophobic messages being spread by far-right groups throughout the community, or has felt angry and upset at the way our town is being portrayed, you should know that you are not alone.

There is a strong community of people standing against this hate, combating the myths and lies from the far right, and working to create a peaceful and compassionate welcome for asylum seeking families.

You are with the majority, and when asylum seekers arrive, your kindness will be life changing for those seeking safety in our town.

We won’t let far right groups divide us, and we won’t let the Home Office’s inhumane policies create a rift in our community.

In an attempt to rebrand one of the anti-refugee protestors signs for good –  mae Llanelli a Ffoaduriaid yn gryfach gyda’i gilydd yn erbyn ffasgiaeth!

This article was submitted by a local resident who didn’t want to be named for fear of possible repercussions.


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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
6 months ago

I needed to see this article today. To the people of Llanelli, you are loved.. and to those in Llanelli who are standing against racism and fascism, gratitude and admiration. There will be no fascism in Cymru. It will not be tolerated. If you adore Cymru and wish to preserve its culture, then check your history. Its not like there never has been nor isn’t racism here, sadly there is, its just that we don’t tolerate bullying in Cymru. As a nation, historically, Cymru has been the victim of bullying tactics, even today, Westminster uses bullying strategies against us. So… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Slava Llanelli…

Tomi Benn
Tomi Benn
6 months ago

“We’ll keep a welcome…” Croeso!
The people objecting to the asylum seeker families need to think about what COULD happen to their own descendants in the future. We MUST offer sanctuary and hope to the people who come to the Stradey Park Hotel.

CJPh
CJPh
6 months ago

Diolch am yr erthygl – mae’r hanner gynta’n arbennig, bach rhy gwleidyddol a phleidgar yn r’ail hanner. S’dim rhaid i’r sefyllfa yma fod yn wleidyddol o gwbl. I’ve spoken to many people living in Llanelli, from Llanelli and born in Llanelli – nobody thinks that the situation at the hotel is ideal (ranging from “it isn’t the best idea” to total opposition). As the beginning of this opinion piece states: “the legitimate frustrations and concerns of local residents – let’s be clear this is a plan that doesn’t work for anyone“. That’s the very pulse of the town encapsulated in… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
6 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

Unfortunately with the best will in the world the issue of migration is going to be or become one that is highly politicised as it always has been. It needs to be kept in mind that even a humanitarian approach, which is what you advocate does not exist in a political vacuum. However, I agree with you, the issue is being taken advantage of by both the right and the left, who, though marginally in the morally superior position, are still exploiting the issue for their own ends.. Where I have to somewhat disagree with you is where you seem… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
6 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

I wasn’t clear enough in the second paragraph – Many of the locals there ARE standing side-by-side with the/are a part of the far right bloc, certainly. Many have come from out of town, but are still Welsh. I don’t like playing “no true Welshman”, but wouldn’t a 10 question test on the 4 cainc, Dafydd ap, pre-industrial Welsh history and a few vocab Cymraeg questions be fun to conduct. I;d imagine quite a few zeroes from the “Why are you betraying your country” crowd… then again, that’d be 80% of the whole country anyway! Still, they’re talking the talk… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
6 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

Well, given the way social media has affected the way people think, yes, it does seem very driven by cliques who cynically exploit any and all causes as a way to promote their agenda. It all reminds me of the sort of antics the Socialist Worker students I met at university in the mid 80s. I’ll always remember a poster I saw: some wag had managed to get a blank Socialist Worker poster and upon it he had written in bold letters ‘Do these wankers even care?’ About the left’s moral superiority, I used the word supposed, but maybe that… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
6 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

However one sees QAnon, either as largely a USGov psyop to justify crackdowns or an actual grassroots movement of ultra-right conspiracy-fuelled pop fascists (or, most likely in my opinion, a bit of both), neither is good. It has, as with ‘Woke’ for the far right and ‘N*zi’ for the far left, become a simple pejorative. These ideas are important to understand, but easy to slip into fuzzy logic and linguistic usurpation – this is why my comments on these boards are so long winded. I do not want to be misunderstood, where that seems to be the goal with others.… Read more »

Llyn
Llyn
6 months ago

The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is a policy of the UK Conservative government (given the circumstances I understand why hotels are being used). Therefore, wouldn’t it be nice if the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, someone who constantly attacks others for not taking responsibility, had the moral backbone to go down to Llanelli and defend his party’s policies and those legally working in the hotel from vile attacks, instead of pathetically leaving it to others in the community to pick up the pieces.

Nobby Tart
Nobby Tart
6 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

He is indeed conspicuous by his absence.

Some months ago, he visited his Conservative councillors in Swansea and put out one of his tweets praising them for “holding Swansea Council to account”. Big Brave RT taking on a local council.

He should be down Llanelli way, praising this policy between the Conservative Government and a private enterprise.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
6 months ago

I totally agree with the article – these are people seeking help and refuge and the far right racist bigots have no place in Llanelli, which has always been an open, warm, welcoming place. The UK government thrives on sowing division, hoping it’ll be a vote winner. It needs to know it’s not going to work in Llanelli.

Washington Tomas
Washington Tomas
6 months ago

Had more than enough of this nonsense now. Almost like a make work programme for journalists. If we are a ‘nation of sanctuary’ then that’s what we are. If not then make it a political issue and stand against candidates who support that in the next Senedd election.

Conor MacDonald
Conor MacDonald
6 months ago

This is a sorely needed article, and I’m sure I speak for many when I offer thanks to the anonymous author.

Arthur Owen
Arthur Owen
6 months ago

I am glad none of the racists hail from Llanelli,perhaps this is true.

Meg
Meg
6 months ago
Reply to  Arthur Owen

At this stage, we can pretty much predict the demographic of all these anti-this and anti-that demonstrations. Down to the prevailing age, gender, brand of shorts and flip-flops, stomach girth, political alignment, Social media platform of choice, stance on royalty and whether or not to “support are buoys”, all the way to least favourite religion and favourite online “news” website. They just get minibused in to whichever contentious hotspot they can find. If somebody does a drag queen story hour reading at Tenby library, I suspect the same dozen protestors would be there “pertecktin are kids”

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

Yes you can protest as shown by those on South Pembrokeshire when the then Home Secretary Priti Patel bypassed the Welsh Government , Senedd & Pembrokeshire council by placing over 300 asylum seekers in a dank army camp at the height of Covid. without consultation, proper PPE supplies only then to move them out and later cynically billing locals the cost of housing them. The same is occuring again where another fascist Home Secretary Suella Braverman is also bypassing the Welsh Government, Senedd Cymru and concerned locals. And it doesn’t help when flames are fanned by Britain First who have… Read more »

cablestreet
cablestreet
6 months ago

Absolutely agree with this article. Stella Braverman’s sheer incompetence in dealing with this situation has landed Llanelli with an influx of far right, and, to put mildly, undesirables who claim, amongst other things that there will be an increase in criminal activity in the area and our streets won’t be safe to walk on when the asylum seekers finally arrive. Well surprise, surprise its already happened, 17 arrests of mainly far right protestors, including one for carrying three knives, with more probably to follow and not a single asylum seeker in sight. A visit to this link will give an… Read more »

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