Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice
This week we have been marking Refugee week across Wales. The past 12 months have reminded us of the creativity, resilience and positive contributions made by people seeking sanctuary in our country.
Across Wales there have been many inspiring stories about refugees who have rebuilt their lives here and have been part of the national effort to combat Coronavirus. These members of our community have been staffing our NHS, packing home delivery parcels, running takeaway food businesses and much more – they have been amongst those keeping us going.In addition to those helping in healthcare settings, we have great examples like the Syrian Dinner Project in Aberystwyth who cooked meals and donated them to hospitals at the height of the first wave and those who arrived here as child refugees who are now doctors ensuring no-one is left behind with the vaccine take-up
Sharing knowledge about these positive examples is important because it explains the core principle of the Nation of Sanctuary As a county, we can all play a key role in ensuring we harness the talent and determination of those who arrive on our shores,.
Above all, the Nation of Sanctuary vision is about making Wales not just welcoming to migrants, but also harnessing the opportunities which migration brings to help our economy and communities to thrive.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have continued to push forward with our vision. Our funded services – including the ‘Asylum Rights Programme’, the ‘Move On Project’, the ‘ReStart Refugee Integration’ project, and Asylum Justice legal advice - have continued to deliver in extremely challenging circumstances, on virtual platforms.
Our Sanctuary website has been updated throughout the pandemic to ensure that key messages around Covid-19 regulations can be easily accessed in many languages. Over the coming months, we will be expanding the information provided on the website to include information for EU citizens and Hong Kong British Nationals, before adding additional categories of migrants who may travel to Wales to start a new life here.
We have also funded the temporary installation of internet access into asylum properties in Wales for a period of 6 months. This will help asylum seekers to connect with their family and friends, and allow access to key integration activities such as English Speakers Of Languages classes and obtaining good quality advice.
As the pandemic continues, we are reminded that we cannot ignore the impact of crises which occur across the planet. This should be a stark reminder to us all that we have a duty to support those who need to flee and seek refuge. In that vein, we will be ensuring the UK Government fully understands our views about the New Plan for Immigration.
We agree that the asylum system needs reform but these are not the proposals which will resolve our challenges with the compassion and respect for human rights which the modern UK is lauded for around the world. We need to see proposals which enable the Welsh Government to implement an effective integration policy – our Nation of Sanctuary plan – from day one of arrival. This means that asylum seekers need to be placed into communities and not in isolated prison-like reception centres. Individuals need to be able to work and use their skills whilst they await the outcome of their claim. And above all, the impacts of the migration system on children and vulnerable people – from the separation of families, the impact of being unaccompanied, or not being able to access destitution funding – must be minimised.
We will continue to work hard to seek changes to the UK Government asylum system which will improve the well-being of asylum seekers, community cohesion and our ability as a Devolved Administration to make effective policy interventions to support these members of our community.
The theme for this year’s refugee week is We Cannot Walk Alone, derived from Martin Luther King Junior’s iconic speech ‘I have a dream’. The spirit of this speech was about solidarity and that is what we need to evoke to ensure people seeking sanctuary can fulfil their potential and we – as a nation – can fulfil its potential too.
The Nation of Sanctuary vision does not belong solely to the Welsh Government, we all have a part to play. We want the Welsh public to get behind it and own it themselves. I was delighted to join Universities and Colleges earlier this week who are improving the inclusivity of their institutions in a bid to become places of Sanctuary. Schools are also starting to achieve Schools of Sanctuary status – including four Cardiff schools supported by Cardiff Council. I am pleased to hear that the Council has now committed to an ongoing programme to promote and support this step across all Cardiff schools. The programme will include a package of training and support, workshops, appraisal and an annual celebration. Through our ReStart project we are also working to encourage businesses to consider recruiting refugees and making their workplaces inclusive of their needs, on their way to achieving Business of Sanctuary accreditation.
We cannot walk alone, we must move forward together and strive towards change. Every individual action – such as those I have outlined in this statement - bring us closer to becoming a Nation of Sanctuary and reaffirm that welcoming and caring reputation of our country.