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A Welsh approach to multiculturalism.

This Christmas, as the debate around multiculturalism rages in the UK, Wales finds itself well positioned to cast a discerning light on how to address some of the challenges of integration. It does so in the context of a rapidly changing global scene where almost one in every 35 of us is now a migrant. That capacity to discern comes from modern Wales' own way of addressing migration and cultural differences.

In the context of the debate on multiculturalism, Wales' contribution remains largely understated. Although the National Assembly has begun to make its presence felt, to anyone glancing at the 2001 census statistics, Wales appears overwhelmingly white and British in ethnic complexion and consequentially peripheral to the debate. There is however a different story to tell. Dai Smith's perceptive 1984 description of Wales as a singular noun but a plural experience still rings true today. If anything marks out the identity of modern Wales it is the movement of people.

From the time a native of north Africa called Macrinus left his name on a piece of Roman pottery in Holt near Wrexham, Wales has encountered and handled cultural diversity in its own way by frequently reinventing itself and adapting to new realities. That process is dynamic and ongoing.

Today, a Welsh-medium school such as Plasmawr in Cardiff can record that 9% of its students come from black and ethnic minority homes. That would have been inconceivable 30 years ago.

The CRE's Croeso project, by the time it ends, will have worked in every secondary school in Wales, drawing together conversations about what unites us now in a shared sense of humanity. Wales is being recreated as we speak.

Ancient patterns of migration still have their modern impact. The electoral map of the 1997 devolution referendum showed an uncanny resemblance, in the case of the 'no' vote, to the demographics of medieval Norman migration. In more modern times, the human experience known as the Valleys took shape during a time when Wales' population almost quintupled over four generations. At one stage before World War I, Wales had an immigration rate of 45 per 10,000 and ranked second, by rate, only to the US as a world centre of immigration. Today, a quarter of the people who live in Wales were born elsewhere: frequently from other parts of the UK, but not exclusively so. Wales shares, without really knowing it, such realities with cities such as London.

Significantly, a small nation with two formal linguistic communities, formidable traditional barriers of geography and only a recent and still limited expression of national governance cannot turn to increasingly frayed badges of national identity for a sense of security. Increasingly, uniformity cannot be enforced by a single language, common ethnicity, shared faith or sovereign statehood with concrete borders.

Wales, unlike larger nations, has always had to turn to more creative emblems of national identity: specifically, around how different peoples recognise each other and get on with each other.

The way in which Wales has approached the welcoming of asylum seekers and refugees offers a significant indication of a new political culture. In 2005, the Institute for Public Policy Research discovered that Cardiff had the most positive attitude towards asylum seekers of all the cities in the UK it questioned.

The distinctive Welsh Assembly Government's refugee doctors' training scheme is undoubtedly the best scheme of its kind in the UK. The scheme has 65 members in training and has already produced 29 working doctors for the NHS in Wales. Significantly, Wales has a refugee inclusion policy placing an emphasis on including people as they are.

Yet, there are still challenges confronting the Commission for Racial Equality in Wales during its last year of existence before the formation of the new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights in October 2007. There is still work to be done around race equality.

Public bodies now have a duty to make sure that they are working for race equality and the CRE has the job of chasing those who do not fulfil this requirement properly. Over the next few months, the CRE in Wales will be reporting on how Welsh public bodies are doing and setting out clearly what still needs to be done.

This work is crucial in the context of a small nation with such a large public sector. The CRE will be offering advice and encouragement but also retains the option of using its enforcement powers as given by Parliament.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of all for the CRE in Wales this Christmas is to help create a society where not too many conversations begin with the prefix: 'I'm not a racist but...'. Thirty years on, the CRE still has work to do. Racism still exists.

Aled Edwards is Wales Commissioner at the Commission for Racial Equality.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 20, 2006
Words:802
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