Non-Ukrainian Swansea refugee refused free train travel

  • Published
Media caption,
"I was told I was the wrong type of refugee"

A Kurdish refugee has said he was wrongly barred from using a free travel pass for eligible migrants because he is not from Ukraine.

Raman lives in Swansea and was trying to get to Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, for work experience at a law firm.

He claimed guards at Swansea train station accused him of "abusing" a system meant for Ukrainian refugees.

Transport for Wales (TfW) apologised and said it took allegations of racism "very seriously."

The Welsh government said it would "urgently clarify" the criteria of its travel schemes with TfW, which it fully owns, which would "urgently" let its staff know.

The free rail travel initiative for Ukrainians is an extension to an existing Welsh government programme offering free public transport to asylum seekers in Wales.

It is the second report of a refugee in Wales being wrongly refused free travel in recent months.

Raman, 32, first applied for asylum in the UK in 2020 after fleeing Iran where he was persecuted for being an ethnic minority Kurd and political activist.

He was moved between detention centres and cities, spending six months at the controversial Penally camp.

Three months ago, Raman was awarded refugee status, which gives him the right to remain in the UK.

He was excited to be offered work experience at a Barry-based law firm specialising in human rights.

Raman's five-year-old daughter is still in Iran, and he said he saw the job as the first step towards a "normal life" where he has the means to apply for her to join him in Wales.

For the first four days of his work experience, Raman travelled free from Swansea to Barry under a Welsh government scheme.

According to the Welsh government's website, the scheme provides free bus and rail travel "to refugees travelling to Wales searching for a safe haven".

To be eligible, people need:

  • A biometric British residence permit (BRP), marking them as a refugee
  • A letter from the Home Office, or other proof of being a refugee entitled to humanitarian protection
  • Ukrainians can show a valid passport until processed by the Home Office.

Raman initially travelled using his BRP, but last Thursday he said he was stopped at Swansea station and asked to bring in Home Office documentation the following day.

Image source, Google
Image caption,
The issue happened at Swansea train station

When he did, he said he was told the scheme was "meant to be for Ukrainian refugees fleeing from war" and was accused of trying to "abuse the system".

'Discriminated'

Raman said even on the days he was allowed to use the free travel scheme, he felt "very uncomfortable" having to stand out on the platform and tell the guards he was a refugee.

He said many staff did not know about the scheme, prompting awkward conversations on crowded trains and busy platforms.

But when he was accused of trying to abuse the system, Raman said he felt "discriminated" against.

As a Kurdish refugee, Raman said he had fought "racial subordination" all his life.

He said: "How do you know what I've been through, what I've fled through and why I'm here?

"You've never walked in my shoes, and you probably are not able to walk in my shoes for a minute."

Raman said he fled Iran to escape racial persecution and would not stand for it in Wales.

Image caption,
Lawyer Hilary Brown said she was concerned about how many other people it may have happened to

He added: "The people dealing with this scheme should be educated how to treat an asylum seeker or a refugee.

"It is not easy to be an asylum seeker. They are really fragile because they've been through too many things."

Raman said he did not want to return to Swansea train station and be reminded of his ordeal, and has not been able to attend his work experience since.

Raman's internship was at Barry-based law firm Virgo Consultancy.

Its chief executive, human rights lawyer Hilary Brown, got in touch with TfW when she heard what had happened.

"How many people have lost opportunities to go to various important interviews, benefits interviews or job interviews because they couldn't access transport?" she said.

"I stand by every victim of war and I support the Ukrainian victims of this war, but it seems to me as if a lot of effort and energy has been put into welcoming Ukrainian refugees whilst others are left to find their own way."

In a statement, a TfW spokesman said: "We're very sorry for any distress caused to the customer.

"We take any allegations of racism very seriously and we'll carry out a full investigation with our station management team."

The Welsh government said: "These free travel schemes were introduced to provide practical help for people seeking refuge in Wales."

It said it had clarified the eligibility criteria with TfW, adding: "They are urgently communicating this to their staff."

It said the scheme was open to all refugees in Wales.