As the conflict develops, Newsdirect Wales’ Seb Bench considers what support Wales can offer the people of Ukraine fleeing the Russian invasion. 

As we enter the second week of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, much of the West’s focus has been on how to accept the many refugees inevitably created by the conflict. The Irish Government have lifted all visa requirements between Ukraine and Ireland, whilst the EU as a whole is believed to be planning to allow refugees from Ukraine to stay and work in the EU for up to three years.

The UK Government confirmed that Ukrainian refugees could come to Britain if they have relatives who are British nationals. However, this was criticised for too narrowly defining eligible family members.  This prompted the UK Government to change the rules to include adult parents, grandparents, children over 18 and siblings as relatives who can enter the UK to be with British Nationals. This could double the number of Ukrainian refugees the UK accepts to 200,000.

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has reiterated his desire for Wales to be a Nation of Sanctuary, including for Ukrainian refugees. Crucially there appears to be significant cross-party consensus on the issue, with the Welsh Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats all urging the UK to take in and support Ukrainian refugees.

This isn’t the only refugee crisis Wales has dealt with in the past 12 months. The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in 2021 created a substantial number of refugees. Many of these refugees wished to settle in the UK, with many of them having worked with the UK in some form during the British military’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

The UK Government did create the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme to resettle 20,000 refugees over the course of the next few years. The Welsh Government expressed its willingness to accept Afghan refugees but criticised the details of the scheme. Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt also criticised the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill. That bill continues to make its way through the UK Parliament and has faced significant criticism from Members of the Senedd. That opposition culminated in the Senedd refusing to grant its consent to the Nationality and Borders Bill earlier this month.

The Welsh Government’s Nation of Sanctuary Plan published in 2019 expressly focuses on the devolved policy areas the Welsh Government has control over. This is understandable given the substantial ideological differences on immigration and asylum between the Welsh Government and the UK Government under successive Prime Ministers.

However welcoming Wales is to the refugees it takes in, can it truly claim to be a Nation of Sanctuary if it can’t convince the UK Government to take in more refugees so Wales can be a sanctuary to more people? Alongside the number of refugees the UK takes in, there are longer-term policies like the Nationality and Borders Bill and the prohibition on asylum seekers working that will affect refugees accepted from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine for years to come.

If the Welsh Government is able to convince the UK Government to accept more refugees from Ukraine, it will go a long way to proving it really can be a Nation of Sanctuary when crisis strikes.  The Welsh Government will also need to attempt to lobby the UK Government to change policies like the Nationality and Borders Bill that affect refugees in Wales.

 

Photo Credit: Flickr / Danny Chapman

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