Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children
The Syrian conflict has led to the displacement of over 4 million refugees, mostly to other countries in that region. However, some of people displaced by the conflict have made dangerous journeys to Europe in search of protection. Wales has a proud history of welcoming those in need, from Belgian refugees in the First World War, Basque refugees during the Spanish Civil War, and Jewish refugees during the Second World War. We are responding to the ongoing crisis in Syria with the same level of humanity, providing a safe haven to Syrian refugees and their families across Wales.
The Wales Syrian Refugee Taskforce was established in November 2015. Since then, significant progress has been made to help resettle survivors of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Each of the 22 Welsh Local Authorities has committed to playing their part in providing the necessary support and assistance to those who are attempting to rebuild their lives in Wales.
Latest published statistics show that we had resettled 397 Syrian refugees by December 2016, though the actual figure has increased with a number of families arriving in January and February. We are on track to play our full part alongside other parts of the UK. It is crucial that we continue to do all we can to resettle those who continue to live in precarious situations.
In addition to the Syrian Resettlement Programme, the UK Government has announced two other schemes focused on children which Welsh authorities are currently working to support, the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Programme (children who may be unaccompanied or with families from the Middle East and North Africa Region) and a transfer scheme for unaccompanied children. Each of these schemes brings their own challenges, but they are not insurmountable and we are working to develop capacity within Wales to ensure public services are ready to receive unaccompanied and vulnerable children and their families.
The closure of the ‘Jungle’ camp at Calais last year created a real impetus to find suitable places to support vulnerable unaccompanied children who have been removed from the camp. Quite rightly, there is public concern for the welfare of these children, and Welsh authorities and communities have responded to offer assistance where they could to ensure they can be resettled appropriately. Longer term, the challenge is to ensure the success of various schemes being developed to enable children and families to integrate into Welsh society.
To help with this, the Welsh Government has developed a ‘Welcome to Wales’ pack to support refugees to learn more about their new home and settle into Welsh life more easily. A strong partnership approach between public authorities and the Third Sector is being taken to ensure positive outcomes for vulnerable families, in a clear embodiment of the principles of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. A framework is in place, supporting coordination and collaboration between public authorities and the third sector, led by a Ministerial Refugee Taskforce and an Operations Board. Work is also beginning to refresh the Community Cohesion Delivery Plan, which will include specific focus on supporting refugee integration into local communities. Additional funding is being invested to ensure public services have better social care and language learning capacity to support those arriving. The UK Government will also be providing funding to support coordination of refugee schemes in Wales, through the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership.
The Welsh Government, Welsh Local Government Association, Wales Strategic Migration Partnership and other public authorities are currently working to create a distinctive Welsh approach towards supporting the continued resettlement of those most in need. Some areas have little or no previous experience of supporting refugee children and families, many of whom have complex needs. This approach will therefore focus on ensuring placements are found for refugees which will aid their integration into society and give the Welsh economy the opportunity to harness the skills they bring with them. At the same time the established settlement areas of Cardiff, Wrexham, Newport and Swansea continue to receive and support asylum seekers fleeing from conflict and persecution, alongside the refugee resettlement programmes. In these ways, Wales is making an important contribution to providing sanctuary to those in need.
Wales is a welcoming country and public authorities and partners will move forward together to ensure that we continue to play our part in fulfilling our legal and moral obligations to those fleeing conflict and persecution, as well as building sustainable Welsh communities.