Persecution is an everyday torment for Swansea's Kurdish community

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The Independent Online

Tahseen Shaho was attacked outside his home, beaten and intimidated by three men who threatened to return and kill his children; he was bruised and broke two fingers. Ali Amir was assaulted in the city centre by a gang who left him with a split lip and a black eye.

Tahseen Shaho was attacked outside his home, beaten and intimidated by three men who threatened to return and kill his children; he was bruised and broke two fingers. Ali Amir was assaulted in the city centre by a gang who left him with a split lip and a black eye.

In Iraq, these Kurds grew used to such violence and discrimination under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. They did not expect the ill-treatment to continue when they came to Britain to seek safety from repression.

Both Mr Shaho and Mr Amir have suffered violence in Swansea, a place many Kurds say they are drawn to because the hills remind them of their homeland but where, it is claimed, many of the 200 or so Iraqi Kurds in the city have suffered some kind of violence, verbal abuse or hostility. At least one racist incident a day is being reported to police. And, in circumstances not yet fully explained, one man has died.

Last weekend, after pleas from Swansea Bay Race Equality Council (SBREC), South Wales Police and the local council, the Home Office took the unusual step of agreeing to delay plans to send 100 asylum-seekers to the city in one batch as, it was said, the organisations assisting them to settle there could not cope. It will now be staggered, with about a dozen or so arriving each week.

Not everyone backs the move. Some say that, while it was done to avoid inflaming tensions, it sends a message that racist behaviour can stop asylum-seekers. There have also been claims that the Kurds, in addition to being persecuted by whites, have been discriminated against by fellow members of the ethnic minority community. One senior member of the city's Asian community said: "Unfortunately, some view the Kurds as gypsies, who are trouble because they want their own independent country. The divides of the Middle East are being played out on the streets of British towns.''

Swansea, with a population of 224,000, has a relatively low non-white community of 3 per cent, compared with, say, Cardiff, with 8 per cent. The Iraqis make up about a third of the estimated 600 refugees sent there as part of the Home Office's policy of dispersal. Another who came to the city for a better life was Kalan Karim, 29, the nephew of Mr Shaho. A political activist in northern Iraq, he was imprisoned after being shot in the leg, which was later amputated. Granted refugee status, he was in Swansea because his uncle was there, but found his poor English and artificial limb prevented him getting work. Just over six weeks ago he was attacked and killed in the city centre.

Mr Karim's friends and family claim the attack took place against a background of rising hostility towards their community, like the incidents suffered by Mr Shaho and Mr Amir.

Now living with his wife and three young children in Oxford, Mr Shaho, aged 34, said: "This is a much better place - less frightening. There are many more foreign people and they don't know whether you are a student or an asylum-seeker.''

Mr Amir, 22, unable to work because of his status, doesn't go out much from the house he shares with five other asylum-seekers: "I sleep to pass the time. I don't feel safe here.'' They have no community centre or place to gather.

Sarkat Junad, 30, Mr Karim's best friend who has lived in Swansea for the past two of his 12 years in Britain, has also suffered abuse and casual violence. "I moved to a suburb because of the problems where I lived. Some parts of the city are fine but others, the estates, are not. It's like the people, a mixture of very good and very bad. The bad ones make the noise, saying things like 'Iraqis go home'.''

Naz Malik, director of the Cardiff-based All Wales Ethnic Minority Association, who has lived in Swansea for more than 20 years, said he did not consider it a particularly racist place but believed the decision on restricting asylum-seekers was "unhelpful''. He said: "From the outside it will look like the people who came to this country as refugees themselves first are pulling up the drawbridge.''

The police and SBREC argue that staggering the arrival of new asylum-seekers was necessary to allow those who help them settle in to cope; they stressed that some are still arriving to replace those leaving. Cliff Filer, Swansea Division Commander for South Wales Police, said: "We are not complacent and do not want to play into the hands of racists, but we have to balance the needs of everyone.''

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