Jane Hutt AM, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip
Following the abhorrent attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March 2019, I am updating the written statement I issued on 19 March outlining actions being taken in Wales. These included a step-up in patrols by the police around mosques to provide reassurance and increase their engagement with communities of all faiths; our work to tackle hate crime; our expanded Regional Community Cohesion Programme and the work of our Faith Communities Forum and National Hate Crime Report and Support Centre.
Since the attacks, the police forces in Wales have not reported any immediate threats towards our Muslim communities. But this is no reason to be complacent. We know that far-right extremism, racially-motivated hatred and anti-Muslim activity exist in Wales and the UK. It is our shared duty to work together to combat this despicable and criminal behaviour.
It is a sobering reality that Muslim communities across Wales and England experience higher rates of hate crime than any other ethnic or religious group. Such hatred can have a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. The Welsh Government is committed to ensuring victims receive support; hate crime cases are handled appropriately and we work with the police to bring perpetrators to justice.
On 21 March, on the United Nations Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I sponsored the United We Stand conference at the Pierhead, in Cardiff Bay. I announced additional funding of £840,000 from the European Transition Fund to tackle hate crime, particularly race hate crime, during the EU Withdrawal period.
Of this, £360,000 will increase the capacity of our National Hate Crime Report and Support Centre, run by Victim Support Cymru. This important service provides support and advocacy for victims of hate crime in Wales.
Our systems for supporting victims of hate crime and holding perpetrators to account are world-leading – visitors from around the world are coming to Wales to learn. However, the National Hate Crime Report and Support Centre is running at full capacity; this funding will provide additional paid and volunteer case worker support. Last week I visited the hub in St Mellon’s, in Cardiff, to meet some of the case workers and hear more about their work.
On 21 March, I announced £480,000 for an important new grant fund for community organisations working with BAME people in Wales who are vulnerable to and anxious about hate crime. This includes Gypsy Roma Traveller communities, EU citizens, refugees and asylum seekers and minority faith communities.
The fund will support action to prevent hate crime, provide reassurance and promote and enhance community cohesion. Wales is stronger when diversity is respected and when everyone has their basic rights and safety protected.
I am determined the fund will be co-produced with stakeholders. This process started with discussions at the Wales Race Forum meeting, which I chaired on 28 March. I want to thank all those who attended for their challenging and constructive contributions.
Last week, I wrote to all Imams in Wales, offering a message of solidarity and profound sympathy after the attacks in Christchurch and the vandalism of mosques in Birmingham and Newcastle. I reiterated the message that the Welsh Government stands with our Muslim friends and neighbours and will continue to do everything in our power to eradicate Islamophobia from our communities.
I urge members of the community to be vigilant, but not scared, and have circulated information about key contact numbers for anyone who witnesses or is made aware of suspicious or threatening behaviour.
I want Imams to be aware of the online training package called ACT Awareness eLearning – a source of advice about protective security and how to react if the worst happens. It can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/act-awareness-elearning. I have also circulated information about UK Government funding for the Places of Worship scheme, which applies to England and Wales and helps places of worship install physical protective security, such as fencing, lighting and CCTV.
On 26 March, the First Minister and I attended a dinner for more than 400 people hosted by the Muslim Council of Wales. Attendees were of all faiths and none, representing a very wide cross-section of Welsh life. The First Minister gave his unwavering commitment that the Welsh Government will work with others to root out Islamophobia; tackle hate crime and prevent far-right extremists becoming active in Wales.
Despite the sombre context, the mood of the evening was overwhelmingly one of friendship and solidarity, recognising all that we hold in common.
The First Minister emphasised our challenge is not to be overwhelmed. Instead, we must honour the memories of those who died in the Christchurch attacks by ensuring our communities are places where people of all faiths can live and worship in an environment of understanding and respect. We share a commitment to promote empathy and consideration across our nation.