How does it operate?
The mentoring scheme facilitates the meeting of volunteers and scheme participants – mostly newly dispersed asylum seekers – and provides practical support to alleviate experiences of isolation during the initial arrival period. The local authority and civil society’s mitigation of the government’s “hostile environment” policy is twofold. First, they work to prevent and counter the social isolation that asylum seekers are forced into as part of the hostile environment. Second, they also facilitate self-organisation and collaboration between new arrivals and asylum seekers who have been in the city for longer. Mentoring activities are wide-ranging, but typically include: explaining and showing bus routes as well as accessing services or safe places in town to meet, bringing newcomers to the library, helping them with administrative procedures, or introducing them to other people.
What is the outcome?
Through its activities, the scheme increases new asylum seekers’ knowledge of and familiarity with the Swansea area. Mentors offer support to asylum seekers immediately following their referral to the project. The Swansea City of Sanctuary movement trains volunteer mentors, and then matches them with mentees. Their shared work is a short-term intervention, consisting usually of two to eight sessions, depending on the needs of the participant. This allows dispersed asylum seekers to “find their feet” in their new community. The scheme has between 40 to 50 mentors, and about 120 mentees a year.
Who initiated the project? How?
The Wales Cities of Sanctuary project pioneered the initiative, which was funded by a Big Lottery Grant between 2015 and 2018, and was run in partnership with Displaced People in Action (DPIA) in Cardiff. The scheme is now called "A Better Welcome to Swansea". It continues to run through a partnership between Swansea City of Sanctuary and the Swansea Council of Voluntary Services, funded by the National Lottery. The Intercultural Cities report on Swansea by a Council of Europe team of expert highlights how Swansea Council supported the local City of Sanctuary movement to run this scheme. For example, the official Migration, Asylum Seeker and Refugee coordinator of Swansea Council is, as a local councillor, heavily involved in the project (interview, December 2020).