As Europe closes its borders, Wales becomes a ‘nation of sanctuary’

In many ways, it is Mohammad who is struggling the most. “I really like this great country. It’s very beautiful, very kind and it’s helped my wife and children,” he said.

But learning both English and Welsh while working a four-day week is proving an uphill battle. At a recent Welsh class, Karkoubi struggled to follow the telephone role-play exercise and looked tired after a day on the job.

In the workshop, his colleagues tease him that his Welsh vocabulary doesn’t extend much beyond “amers te,” or “tea time,” but they say he’s a keen learner and is slowly showing improvement. “I speak Welsh to him everyday,” Steve Tandy, a co-worker, said. “If he had no interest I wouldn’t bother.”

Finding a job, playing soccer

While the Karkoubis have their difficulties, they are hiccups compared to the problems faced by many asylum-seekers living in Wales. Under British law, most are banned from working until they obtain a different immigration status.

Salah Rasool, who runs the Welsh Refugee Council‘s government-funded Move-On project, said finding a job is the key to feeling included and avoiding falling into poverty.

He said the British system focused on allowing refugees to start claiming benefits as soon as possible, making them dependent on the state when they should be — and want to be — contributing to society.

“You wake up in the morning, you go to work, these are the struggles of normal people. It’s important, it’s life,” Rasool said, adding that often without work it can be a challenge for refugees to feel “100 percent” part of society.

“I’m losing my hair because all I think about is when I’m going to get a visa, when I’m going to have a nice life,” said Rebwir Kadir, 28, an Iraqi asylum-seeker who was at the refugee council for an appointment with a caseworker.

Kadir cannot work and says he has been appealing the government’s decision to reject his asylum claim for more than 10 years. He says he sleeps on friends’ couches.

Hazar Almahmoud, 49, a Syrian refugee who paid smugglers and used fake passports to reach the U.K. in 2016, said she has struggled to secure a permanent job.

“I had many interviews, I am confident with my qualifications and skills, but when I get to the interview I get stressed and panic,” said Almahmoud, who used to work as an administrator in her hometown, Latakia.

She said she feels it’s unfair that refugees aren’t given more of a chance to prove themselves.

Karkoubi’s employer, David Rees, has clearly been patient.

“We do our best to help him. It can be hard work,” Rees said when NBC News visited his workshop last month. “But he’s a good worker, and he 100 percent wants to please.”

And everywhere there seem to be stories of people trying to help newcomers feel at home.

Dave Price, 59, now has four asylum-seekers playing for the soccer team he manages in his spare time.

Khaled Ahmed Mousa, 30, suits up for Tongwynlais each Saturday.

The Sudanese national says it gives him something to look forward to in what is otherwise an uneventful week.


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