Integration key to making Wales a “Nation of Sanctuary”

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Deputy Minister without portfolio and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), has unveiled a new plan to help integrate refugees and asylum seekers into Welsh society. The plan includes a new multi-lingual website which will launch later this year.

Nation of Sanctuary

The Deputy Minister told the Senedd the plan will go some way to meeting the Welsh Government’s ambition of making Wales a “Nation of Sanctuary”.

Although immigration policy is non-devolved, the Welsh Government are responsible for many associated areas like health, community cohesion and education. 1,000 refugees from the Syrian Civil War have now settled in Wales with little incident and the plan will focus on integration and helping refugees deal with whatever harrowing experiences they may have faced.

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), broadly welcomed the plan and the positive work of various organisations involved with refugees and asylum seekers – reserving special praise for those working to make Wrexham a town of sanctuary. Nonetheless, he believed the proper integration of refugees and asylum seekers was a two-way street and needs input from residents too.

“How do you also propose to engage with the broader population, because it’s clearly a two-way process? Unless we can break down barriers to understanding at home, then no matter how well we seek to integrate our new neighbours, those barriers will persist. So, it is very much a two-way process.”
– Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM

Barriers remain

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) said there were still problems related to attitudes towards immigration:

“….we have to acknowledge that there are some serious barriers remaining to creating the nation of sanctuary that we all aspire to….These barriers stem from the fact that the UK has had a deeply dysfunctional public debate on migration, including on immigration and asylum, for many, many years….To my knowledge, this goes back 20 years at least. I can think of some very unhelpful columns written in The Sun newspaper by the then Cabinet Minister David Blunkett, for example, raising questions about civil rights lawyers and the decision to restrict the civil liberties of asylum seekers.”
– Helen Mary Jones AM

She said the quality of housing for asylum seekers remained poor and there were still language barriers preventing refugees and asylum seekers fully participating in their communities.

Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) implied there’s a values dissonance amongst the public where some refugees might be more accepted than others. Last June, he attended a film in Ystradgynlais telling the story of a celebrated Polish refugee (Josef Herman) who fled the Nazis, but it was told by Syrian children. The community once again “opened its arms”; he added that those seeking sanctuary should be seen as an asset and a gift, not a burden.

Joyce Watson AM’s (Lab, Mid & West Wales) father escaped a Nazi POW camp and was only able to do so because of the kindness of strangers and locals. She was pleased the Welsh Government is offering guardianship support to unaccompanied children.

In reply, the Deputy Minister said funding for the guardianship scheme would be available to all local authorities, but in turn, the government needs their co-operation on housing. The Rent Smart Wales code of practice will also be reviewed to see how it can protect refugees and asylum seekers.

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