accessibility & help

English lessons allow refugee women to share their stories at Hay Festival

27 May 2016

As the European refugee crisis enters its second year, the voices of those who have fled conflict and persecution can be lost – especially the voices of women.

On Friday 3 June, 10 women who have sought refuge in the UK and settled in Newport will share their personal stories at the Hay Literary Festival in Hay-on-Wye.

These women all attend free English lessons - funded by the Welsh Assembly Government – and provided by the British Red Cross in Newport. These lessons have not only given them the skills they need to tell their story, but also to integrate into their local community.

Theresa Mgadzah Jones, refugee and asylum seeker support service coordinator at the British Red Cross in Newport, said: “The stories we hear in the media about the refugee crisis are often told from the man’s perspective. Women also have to sacrifice a great deal when seeking sanctuary in a new country.

“We wanted to give a voice to the women refugees that we support at the Red Cross. Through our English lesson, we have let them tell their stories and share their experiences. Being able to read their stories at the Hay Festival is a fabulous opportunity for people to understand the sacrifices and loses that refugees suffer, but also appreciate the difficulties they face as they settle in a new place with no support network or understanding of local culture or language.”

As well as offering classes suitable for beginners and intermediate level English speakers, the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses also offer free crèche facilities so mothers can feel confident leaving their young children while they concentrate on their learning.

The 55 women who attend the lessons write about their experiences of escaping conflict and violence, the reality of leaving family and friends behind, and the challenges of starting a new life in the UK.

One example is Rehana, a 29 year old woman, fled her native Eritrea into nearby Ethiopia to escape conflict. Instead of finding peace she encountered more violence. At seven months pregnant she fled again, enduring the horrific journey across seas to reach safety in the UK.

Debra Tritton Herefordshire area President at the British Red Cross said:

“Demand for English language lessons hugely outweighs the supply, yet it is so important for the life chances of refugees and asylum seekers. The event at Hay is testament to how our English lessons are unlocking so many opportunities for these women.

“We’re incredibly lucky to receive funding from the Welsh Assembly Government and hope this support continues so that more refugee women can learn such a life changing skill.”

The readings will take place at 1pm in the Cube with British Red Cross CEO Mike Adamson and BBC Radio 4 Presenter Anita Anand. Tickets are available on the Hay Festival website:


Notes to editors

>     The British Red Cross is the largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and plays a key role in supporting vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers settle in to UK life. This can include projects to help people find out about life in the place they are living, as well as volunteering and learning opportunities which may lead to employment.

>     For more information on the British Red Cross please visit

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