Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
I committed to update Assembly Members on the progress to resettle Syrian refugees in Wales following the first meeting of the Syrian Refugee Taskforce. The Taskforce met on 19 November with representatives from Health, Local Government, the Third Sector, the Private Sector, the Home Office and the Police present. I am pleased to announce that four Local Authorities across Wales will be welcoming approximately 50 Syrian refugees before Christmas. Exact numbers, details of the Local Authorities and arrival dates will not be disclosed as the interests of the refugees must be uppermost in our minds.
All 22 Local Authorities are keen to resettle Syrian refugees and the remaining 18 are at different stages in their considerations. Local Authorities have key decisions to make and must be allowed sufficient time to go through their local processes to ensure the necessary services are in place.
Like everyone in Wales, I was horrified by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Mali and Beirut. It was disappointing some people chose to criticise Governments for offering new homes to refugees following these attacks. I am assured by the UK Government all refugees coming here will have been thoroughly vetted in the camps before being accepted, to ensure they are genuine refugees who pose no threat to our security.
Wales has a proud history of welcoming refugees from all over the world, including Syrians, who have come to the UK and claimed asylum. I want to send out a strong message that refugees and asylum seekers are welcome in Wales. We believe integration begins on day one of arrival and have had a number of services in place to support refugees and asylum seekers for many years. We are currently consulting on our Refugee and Asylum Seeker Delivery Plan which sets out our proposals for the next 3 years. So, although the Taskforce is time limited, we already have a long term and sustainable approach to supporting refugees and asylum seekers.
I fund Community Cohesion Co-ordinators across Wales who ensure, as part of their work programme, that systems for monitoring tensions are in place at a local level. They also have a key role in raising awareness of hate crime and ensuring Local Authorities’ officers have the necessary training. I take a zero tolerance approach to hate crime and strongly condem any abuse Muslim people may experience in the wake of attacks such as those witnessed in recent days. I want to send a clear message to anyone who is the victim of hate as the result of their colour, faith or immigration status, that this is not tolerated in Wales. We work closely with the Police on our Hate Crime Criminal Justice Board and fund Victim Support Cymru to offer support to all victims of hate crime.
Work is being delivered at pace in Wales and at the first meeting of the Taskforce we identified areas across the Welsh Government where a cohesive approach is needed. The Welsh Government is supporting Local Authorities, particularly those with no previous experience of hosting refugees. I have funded a conference which is taking place today which focuses on life in the UN camps, the experience of Local Authorities who have previously taken Syrian refugees under this scheme and community cohesion issues. All 22 Local Authorities are in attendance and invitations also went to Health Boards, non devolved organisations and the Private Sector.
I have also funded a Welcome to Wales pack which gives key information on life in Wales and includes a section on the local area where the refugees will live. A children and young person’s version will also be made available. The packs will be available in English, Welsh and Arabic and will be useful to all refugees in Wales, not just those who are arriving via the Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme.
There are a number of actions to be taken forward as a result of the Taskforce, including ensuring we have strong communications approaches in place. The Operations Board will meet again in December and January and I will update Assembly Members again in February 2016, after the next meeting of the Taskforce.