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Profile: Lessons for a new life

Alison Sutherland

Rotary Club of Cardiff Bay, Wales

If I report a crime, can the police officer deport me? When I get a cold, should I go to the hospital? Is it all right to spit in the street? For many refugees in a new country, the answers to those and many other questions aren’t obvious. 

Alison Sutherland 

Abbie Trayler-Smith

That’s why Alison Sutherland has been helping asylum seekers learn the customs of their new nation. “We want to set them up for integration rather than isolation,” Sutherland says. 

Wales is home to several thousand displaced people from Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Uganda, and other countries. Upon seeking asylum, they must wait as long as a year for a hearing to determine if they qualify for official refugee status. 

Life during that time is extremely frustrating for them, Sutherland says: “They’re not allowed to work. Meanwhile, of course, they are very afraid. Their journeys have been horrendous.” 

Sutherland, assisted by two members of the City of Cardiff Rotaract Club, regularly meets with asylum seekers to discuss topics such as the role of women in Welsh society, the justice system, and local customs.

 “Some of them have started volunteering with Rotary and Rotaract also,” she says. “They’ve helped us with street cleaning, blood pressure events, face painting, tree planting. They say that we’ve given them welcome and respect.”

– Anne Ford

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