I was pleased to make the below statement in the Chamber this week as Minister for Social Justice;
I am pleased to update the Senedd on the steps we have taken in Wales to respond to the evacuation of Afghan citizens over the past few weeks with my thanks to Members for their engagement in promoting Wales as a Nation of Sanctuary.
Wales has now welcomed more than 50 families from Afghanistan and work continues to increase this further. I am sure Members will agree that this is an important milestone to have reached.
I have met with the UK Government and Ministers from Scotland and Northern Ireland on two occasions to support a Four Nations approach to resettlement. Yesterday, the Home Secretary and Communities Secretary wrote to me to set out more details of the schemes. I was encouraged that some of my requests regarding the eligibility criteria for the new Afghan Citizens scheme, and the level of funding being made available, have been accepted – though there are still many questions which need exploring.
Members have also received a great deal of generosity from their constituents. This kindness is the embodiment of what it means to be a Nation of Sanctuary. That concept does not belong to the Welsh Government – it belongs to all the people and institutions who make up our country and want to give what they can for a humanitarian purpose.
I have been truly heartened by the responses by members of the public, charities and organisations across Wales to support those who need help. We are working hard to find an effective outlet for this support.
I am very grateful that every Welsh Local Authority has come forward to pledge their support to the two new schemes – the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy, or ARAP, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. This support should also be seen in the wider context – every Welsh local authority previously supported the Syrian Resettlement Scheme and many have continued to support the asylum system day-in-day out for the last couple of decades. We will always challenge ourselves to do more but there can be no doubt that Welsh local government is playing a full part in this endeavour.
To that end, approximately 230 individuals from 50 families have so far arrived in Wales. This work has only been possible through the committed work of local authority resettlement teams, dedicated funding from the Home Office to procure the accommodation, and, in some cases, the kindness of landlords and other institutions to make their properties available.
The vast majority of the families which we have accommodated so far have existing links to Wales through their work alongside the Wales-facing Armed Forces who have been active in Afghanistan over 20 years. They have shown bravery and skill in supporting our Armed Forces and we have worked in tandem with the Ministry of Defence to ensure these families can be accommodated in Wales – alongside the friends who they worked to protect in Afghanistan. It will be my privilege to welcome some members of these families to meet Members at the Senedd in the near future.
This Made-in-Wales solution has required innovative ways of working. I am particularly grateful to Urdd Gobaith Cymru for genuinely embodying their long humanitarian purpose by stepping up and offering temporary accommodation to those desperately in need. The Urdd’s deep connection to Welsh culture and work with children and young people provides significant added value which will make their temporary stay far more supportive and helpful to integration than any other temporary arrangement which could be offered.
I want to thank Local Government for their consent and rapid mobilisation of support, the Home Office for ensuring we could progress this solution, and the WLGA for their unstinting efforts to coordinate such an important humanitarian response.
We have worked closely with refugee support organisations, faith leaders, Welsh Afghan communities already living here in Wales, and many more, to ensure those arriving receive the best support possible.
Providing accommodation is key but we must also ensure those who arrive can understand Welsh life and be supported to rebuild their lives. Our collective experience in Wales from the Syrian Resettlement Scheme and the asylum system puts us in good stead but we are continuing to discuss ways to ensure the most appropriate welcome that we can.
Our commitment to these schemes is clear but I want to recognise that we have a long-term commitment to supporting people seeking sanctuary in Wales. Anyone who is resettled or dispersed to Wales will be supported as far as we are able as a Nation of Sanctuary.
People living now in our communities have been forced to flee their country for fear of persecution. This is not just in relation to Afghanistan. We have urged the UK Government to think again about the proposals put forward in the Nationality and Borders Bill which would create an unhelpful two-tier system between asylum seekers and resettled refugees. These proposals should be scrapped and we are happy to work with the UK Government on an asylum system which genuinely works and is humane.
Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini once said “Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale” I call upon everyone here to pledge to work with us on our shared Nation of Sanctuary vision. I will be happy to update Members further in due course.