Wales should be world’s first ‘nation of sanctuary’ for refugees and asylum seekers

Wales should be the world’s first ‘nation of sanctuary’ for refugees and asylum seekers, according to a National Assembly for Wales committee of which sian Gwenllian, arfon AM is a member. 

In 2016, with an intensifying conflict in Syria and huge uncertainty across countries in the region, there were more displaced people in the world than at any other time in history.

“The constant news cycle of images and stories of people escaping war and persecution in Syria, Iraq and other countries brings home the tragedy of current world events, and the stories people have told us during this inquiry have been both harrowing and distressing, but ultimately inspiring,” said Sian Gwenllian, AM, the only member from North Wales on the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee.

“As the Committee heard, those who survive the conflict, boat crossings, people traffickers and countless miles of travelling to reach the UK, including unaccompanied children, are likely to have experienced severely traumatic events which leave lasting psychological scars.

“As we were told, a phrase often used by refugees and asylum seekers is ‘I used to be someone’. It is critical that there is the right support available to them when they reach Wales, so that they can participate fully in Welsh life and have fulfilling lives in their new communities.

“We have outlined what we believe are key areas to provide the services displaced people need. At the core of our report is a belief that Wales could be the world’s first nation of sanctuary, repairing some of the damage that has been done to people through no fault of their own, and to help them be someone once again.”

Even before the Committee’s report was published, its work had made an impact on the way services for refugees and asylum seekers are planned and delivered. Prompted by the Committee’s inquiry and the evidence it heard, the Welsh Government has expanded the role of the Operations Board beyond the Syrian refugees programme to cover all refugees and asylum seekers.

In addition, Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd, which is responsible for asylum accommodation in Wales, has engaged with the Welsh Refugee Coalition about the quality of housing and complaints procedures.

The Committee wants to see further action and an updated and an improved strategic approach, through reviewing the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Delivery Plan.

Members heard that unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) are one of the most vulnerable groups of children in Wales, often at greater risk of exploitation, abuse, gender based violence and trafficking.

They want the Welsh Government to establish a Guardianship service for UASC, to ensure there is capacity and capability across Wales to undertake age assessments, and to set minimum standards for mental health support.

To help refugees and asylum seekers integrate into local communities, the Committee believes the role of community cohesion co-ordinators should be expanded. It also wants to see improvements in the provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages teaching.

There should also be more support for asylum seekers throughout the asylum process, in particular addressing their housing needs. The Committee is calling for better monitoring and resolution of complaints about asylum accommodation, a revised asylum accommodation contract, and ensuring asylum seekers’ landlords are registered and inspected.

The Committee also wants to see improvements to the advice available during the asylum process.

Finally, support should continue for both refugees and failed asylum seekers after the asylum process, through action to prevent destitution, help for refugees to find long-term accommodation, and better access to education and employment.

The Committee’s report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.

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