Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice
Over the past fortnight we have all been gravely concerned about those caught up in the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Our thoughts are with those affected including anyone who is already living here as a veteran, former interpreter, sanctuary seeker or refugee who may be concerned about friends and family members back home.
Wales is a Nation of Sanctuary and we must do all that is possible to ensure Afghan interpreters, refugees and their families are able to reach safety and find a welcome here.
Many of those fleeing Afghanistan have also served our country in various capacities and worked to keep us safe, it is only right we do what we can to protect them now.
The UK Government has set up a helpline for non-British nationals in need of assistance in need of assistance in Afghanistan. The Helpline number is +4402475389980.
British nationals still in Afghanistan can call +4402070085000 or +4401908516666 to speak with the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office to confirm their departure plans
Wales has seen an outpouring of support from our communities, local authorities and supporting organisations. Welsh public authorities are already working flat out to ensure we play a full part in both the UK Government’s scheme for Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (supporting Afghan interpreters and their families), as well as the newly-announced separate scheme to support Afghan refugees. We have received many offers of donations and volunteering, and we are exploring ways to make best use of these kind offers from every corner of our nation.
Every Welsh Local Authority has come forward to offer properties and work tirelessly to ensure Wales is playing its part in both schemes. The availability of appropriate housing is a significant challenge – and this is not limited only to meeting our commitments under these schemes.
We are urgently working to identify vacant properties which local authorities can use to accommodate those who have been evacuated. We appreciate the numerous generous offers to give someone shelter in their own homes but our main need is larger family properties. If Members become aware of larger properties which are available for use for these schemes, or to accommodate other vulnerable groups of people – please get in touch with the relevant local authority.
This week the First Minister and I have met and listened to key stakeholders across Wales including representatives of the Afghan community to look at how we can all work collaboratively to provide the best support possible for those fleeing Afghanistan. We are rightly proud of the work which Wales has collectively done to support Syrian nationals and anyone who has fled persecution and sought sanctuary here over recent years and we will build on this experience.
It is important to also remember that this crisis affects our Armed Forces personnel returning to Wales, and veterans living in Wales who have links to Afghanistan, as well as other civilian contractors who have been supporting the British mission. The scenes on our televisions or which they will have been dealing with in Kabul will be tough for many to deal with. Our CALL Mental Health Helpline is available for all to use – including Language Line language interpretation for those whose first language is not English or Welsh. The Helpline number is 0800132737. Veterans NHS Wales (external link) is available for veterans living in Wales who require support with mental health issues. They can be contacted on 02921832261.
We have written to the UK Government to pledge our commitment to help in any way that we can and to seek urgent clarity on a number of important issues, from contingency accommodation planning arrangements to the scope and support to be provided under the new Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. Once we have this clarity we will be better able to plan and support arrivals and I it is my intention to deliver an Oral Statement to the Senedd with an update in September.
We stand ready to play a full part and we will continue to engage with all key partners here in Wales and across the UK to achieve this.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.