“A Light in the Dark” by the Hon. Rachel Watkin

Over the last year, sadness and despair has engulfed our lives. We watch the daily news informing us of how many lives were lost, news of those who are suffering from poverty or mental illness and news of the economic catastrophe from which we have no idea when we will recover.

Fortunately, the expression “every cloud…” often bears true. In August, a Deputy District Judge from North Wales decided to take action to alleviate some of the hardship.

Wrexham, North Wales, is a Town of Sanctuary where accommodation is offered to those who have had to flee from their home countries in order to save their own lives and those of their families. These families usually come to the UK either as refugees or asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are each provided with a basic £37.75 each on which to live, plus accommodation with very basic furniture. Whilst most are desperate to work as they do not wish to be a burden, they are not permitted to do so. Provided with only the basics by the Home Office, the asylum seeker families live their lives with very little. Once they have purchased essentials like food, toiletries, cleaning products and clothing with their £5.39 per day, their prospects of purchasing a cushion, a food mixer or a jigsaw are minimal.

The position of refugees is slightly different. They are also provided with housing and receive the same benefits as are available to UK residents, from which they have to pay their rent and utility bills. They are also provided with basic furniture. Whilst refugees are permitted to work, it is difficult for them to find work due to language barriers, lack of local knowledge or transport.

Many of the families have lived through atrocities that the settled population could not begin to comprehend and, possibly, may not recover from. They have been beaten, bombed, seen their family members murdered and their homes destroyed. Some have been threatened with death or the death of their children and, all of them, have had to leave loved ones behind, not knowing whether they will ever meet again. Others even lost family members on the journey to safety, many have walked for hours or days to find safety, some having spent years living in squalid camps before reaching the UK. The once common theme amongst the families is that, in comparison with where they come from, they consider it paradise to be living in a basic home with basic furniture in Wrexham and with only £5.39 to spend.

Incensed by the inequality between those struggling, Deputy District Judge Rachel Watkin was determined to do all she could to help. Having identified that numerous items are offered for free on local websites, but which are not accessible to refugees and asylum seekers due to their poor English, their lack of transport or local knowledge, Rachel devised a solution. She created an online platform called Refugee Kindness – North Wales on which local people could offer quality general household items to refugees and asylum seekers.

In less than a week, 500 donors had joined the group and, by Christmas, the group had 1700 donors and supported 47 families. Refugee Kindness – North Wales, by then had 20 volunteers helping to transport the items, and had already facilitated the donation of thousands of household items and delivered a sleigh full of presents to each of the 82 refugee and asylum seekers living in the area.

As a result of kindness and innovation, lives were changed. In the words of one of the asylum seekers on December 15, 2020:

I would like to thank each and everyone in the Refugee Kindness – North Wales group on behalf of myself and all the asylum seeker/refugee families. We have received so much useful gorgeous furniture, clothes, toys, books, household items, decorating supplies and many more things from the kindhearted people of this group. Above all, we are receiving genuine care and love from all our lovely LO’s, DO’s, admins and people since we joined the group/page. All the help and care you are giving is a life changer. I was in a devastating condition. Heart broken, depressed and lonely since I came here as an asylum seeker. All I could see was a black hole in front of me. I have two young boys who left everything they loved behind. The boys only had plastic bags to blow up and play as balloons for over a year. All we could provide was food and shelter which was provided from the Home Office. We were one of the first families to join the Refugee Kindness – North Wales page/group. We felt so embarrassed and sad to ask and accept donated items, but Rachel Watkin Burnett came into our lives when we needed it the most, like a God-sent angel. She helped us understand the purpose and helped me come out of my broken shell. She gave us a smile, a hand and friendship which made me realize I am still a normal human being and I still can be happy and feel love. Rachel introduced us to lovely people from the group who showered us with more love and kindness. And now, my house has changed into a home. My boys have decent clothes and toys now. I am thanking each and everyone from this group for being like a guardian angel and Santa to us. May God bless all the kindhearted LO’s, DO’s and donors. Thank you so so much!

The article was written by IAWJ member, Judge Rachel Watkin. The views presented in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the IAWJ.