THIS IS NOT A POEM

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We’re underway. My friend, Eric Ngalle Charles, and I have long-cherished a dream to turn his words and poetry into a film-hymn to tolerance and understanding.

Eric is a Cameroon-born writer who came to Britain as a refugee almost twenty years ago and has since become one of Wales’ foremost poets.

His writing is fearless and often funny, drawing on a rich history of sub-Saharan African folk tales and on his own incredible experience of being driven from his homeland and people-trafficked.

Eric has performed at the Hay Festival and held a series of writing workshops at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea. The writer Owen Sheers, who is a keen supporter of Eric, has described his work as using “a unique theatrical language”.

For some time we’ve wanted to turn his work into a short film. Now, with the support of Arts Council of Wales and the Dylan Thomas Centre, we are.

We’ve worked together to edit and reshape many of Eric’s poems into a single narrative which describes why he left his homeland and how he came to settle in Wales.

And now filming has started. This blog will chart our progress.

The central theme of the work is identity and how we can all see ourselves as having several different identities at the same time: south Cameroonian, African, Welsh, for instance. Or English/Welsh-speaking Welsh, British, European.

The themes of the film are especially relevant because of the continuing national debate over immigration and Brexit.

The film will form part of a special event at which Eric will discuss poetry and his own thoughts on race and identity, and encourage discussion with the audience.

“We are all many people in one,” Eric says. “And the more we can understand ourselves, the easier it is to reach out to others and to understand them. Greg and I are committed to a message of bringing people closer together and making connections.”

Following its launch in September, the film will be shown at a number of venues around Wales and in Italy, where Eric has performed before.

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That’s our camera operator, Paul Roberts, (centre above) carrying all the kit but still managing to keep ahead of us.

Please follow the ‘This Is Not A Poem’ Category and Tag to keep up with regular updates on the production.

Our photographs are from the fantastic Susy Fernandes and there will be more about – and from her – very soon.

Children who should be in our care

Fresh questions today about the way our society treats vulnerable children.
Firstly, the Welsh Refugee Council has taken the unusual step of going public with concerns about an individual case – an Afghan refugee named Mashal Jabari, an orphan who arrived in the UK last October.
At the heart of the case is a dispute over Mashal’s age.
When Mashal arrived in the UK, he was assessed as being over 18 and was sent to Cardiff where he was initially placed in a hostel for adult new arrivals.
The Welsh Refugee Council was convinced he was clearly only 14 rather than 18. It says that both his GP and social workers in Cardiff also believe he is under 18 (although social workers never got to carry out a full age assessment).
However, they have not been able to persuade the UK Border Agency.
In November, Mashal was refused asylum. On Monday, Mashal went to the Border Agency office in Cardiff with documents from his brother, Zaki, asking for his case to be reassessed because his brother has been given refugee status.
Mashal was taken into detention and spent a day in a police cell. He has now been sent to Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire ready to be “removed” on March 9.
According to the Welsh Refugee Council: “Our children’s advocacy officer visited him in Cardiff Bay police station and he was distraught beyond description. He had been put in padded clothing for fear of self-harm.”
One wonders how our society could treat a traumatised person of any age like this.
Secondly, figures revealed by the office of South Wales West AM, Alun Cairns, today again highlight the desperate shortage of social workers in Wales. The shortage means that hundreds of children have not been allocated a social worker.
“These figures show a worrying number of at-risk children in Wales have not been allocated a social worker,” said Mr Cairns.
“I was very concerned to learn that councils in my own region had large numbers of at-risk children, with 116 unallocated cases in the Swansea Council and 120 in Bridgend.”
The figures reveal a snapshot of the situation on September 1 last year but council funds are going to be squeezed further and recruiting social workers remains a difficult task.
And while vulnerable children wait to be allocated a social worker, it is impossible to know whether or not they are at serious risk.

Not seen and not heard: immigrant children under lock and key

Around 1,000 children are locked up every year by the UK’s immigration system.
They have often fled countries where they experienced violence, war and discrimination.
The children have committed no crime but, according to the Children’s Society, many experience “depression, weight-loss, bed-wetting and even self-harm”.
The Society has joined with Bail for Immigration Detainees to create the OutCry! campaign to demand an end to this Government policy.
It has already gained a great deal of support.
The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics, GPs and Psychiatry, and the Faculty of Public Health last year issued a joint statement which said the “immigration detention of children is harmful and unacceptable” and demanding that the Government “stop detaining children without delay”.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has called on Gordon Brown to end “what is, in effect, state sponsored cruelty”.
And just before Christmas Dame Anne Owers, chief inspector of prisons, published her report on an unannounced visit to Tinsley House immigration detention centre, at Gatwick Airport, calling the conditions there “wholly unacceptable” for women and children.
At the time of that report, the UK Border Agency issued a statement to say that “treating women and children with care and compassion is a priority (for us)”.
But it is a Government policy without compassion and OutCry! believes that General Election year 2010 should be the year politicians shut the door on it.

Looking Beyond The Label

Nearly a quarter of people in Wales believe 100,000 or more asylum seekers come to the UK every year – four times the actual figure.
The figure is revealed in a special ICM poll commissioned by the British Red Cross to mark Refugee Week.
Accoring to Sir Nick Young, chief executive of the British Red Cross: “There are many myths and stereotypes around this vulnerable group, and that is why this year the British Red Cross is urging people to look beyond the refugee and asylum seeker labels, and see people as the individuals they are.”
He said the ICM poll found that 23 per cent of people in Wales believed 100,000 or more asylum seekers come to the UK each year, when the actual figure is around 25,000.
“On average people in Wales also think the UK is home to 28 per cent of the world’s asylum seekers, when in fact only around three per cent seek refuge in this country,” he added.
“Reassuringly, however, 92 per cent of people in Wales have positive associations with refugees living in the UK. Confusion and misunderstanding should not be allowed to erode the UK’s long tradition of providing sanctuary for people fleeing persecution.”
The British Red Cross is using Refugee Week to highlight the positive contributions made by refugees and asylum seekers through its Look Beyond The Label campaign.
“Refugee week gives us the chance to not only celebrate individuals like these, but also to take pride in our own role in offering safety to those in desperate need,” added Sir Nick.

Hope Not Hate Day

Three major events are being planned this month to commemorate those who fell in the battle against fascism in the last century.
Searchlight Cymru’s Wales Hope not Hate day on Sunday, May 17, will also highlight what the organisation describes as the “continuing threat of fascism in Wales in 2009”.
“This threat, although commonly perceived as being just against black and minority ethnic people, is actually a threat against us all,” said Searchlight Cymru.
“Everyone is threatened by the British National Party and everyone can work together to remove that threat.
“This special day will give supporters as well as Euro election campaigner’s space to come together and outline to the people of Wales just why the BNP and what it stands for is a threat to people like me and you.”
In Flint, Swansea and Cardiff, from 10.30am, simultaneous events will feature readings at the Cenotaph of 100 names of those who fell in World War 2 against fascism, a laying of wreaths and two minute’s silence.
Cardiff will also hold a similar event at the Spanish Civil War International Brigades Memorial at Cathays Park from 11.40am.

Asylum Justice: Young Family to Stay in Swansea

Campaigners in Swansea are celebrating after young mum Venera Aliyeva was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
The UK Government had been trying to deport her and her two children to Azerbaijan.
But as What Is Wales? reported in 2007, locals began a campaign to have them returned from Yarl’s Wood detention centre to her home in South Wales.
Venera had previously suffered persecution on two counts in Azerbaijan: because she is a Baptist and an Armenian.
Today the Campaign for Asylum Justice revealed the family would now be allowed to stay in Swansea.

Dick Dastardly’s Middle Eastern promise

A week after What Is Wales? asked what Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair was doing about the crisis in Gaza he has apparently sprung into action.
Back from holiday he has been on the telephone to Jordan’s King Abdullah II and is planning a series of meetings today.
AFP reports that King Abdullah told Mr Blair that the world’s silence over Gaza has become “unacceptable”.
What has the former crusading prime minister been up to then as the hungry and desperate people of Gaza await the tanks and troops of the Israeli Defence Force?
According to the Daily Telegraph one of the things which has been occupying his mind is the design of the Congressional Gold Medal which he has received from George W Bush.
Mr Blair has not yet been able to pick up the medal, awarded for being Bush’s “staunch and steadfast ally” during the invasion of Iraq, and like Dick Dastardly’s sidekick Muttley, he’s understandably keen to see it looks just right.

:: Demonstrations and events relating to the crisis in Gaza are continuing in Wales. See the comments section of the previous post for details.