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08.10.15

All 22 Welsh local authorities to take in Syrian refugees

All 22 local authorities in Wales have agreed to take in Syrian refugees, communities minister Lesley Griffiths told assembly members in a meeting.

When Wales held a summit to discuss this issue in September, attended by representatives from “key” public services, just 17 local authorities were willing to accommodate refugees.

Griffiths also told the national assembly that the Welsh government had established a new Syrian refugee taskforce to “co-ordinate efforts to ensure Wales is ready to play its full part in the resettlement programme”.

While she will chair this taskforce, a linked ‘operations board’ will map the Welsh capacity for refugee take-up. It will be led by Sarah McGill, director for communities, housing and customer service at Cardiff City Council, and is comprised of leaders across public services and the third sector.

The taskforce is due to meet for the first time next month, bringing together senior officials from local government, health and social care, and education and housing.

Griffiths hopes this will provide them with enough time to “properly assess” Welsh capacity before they can urge the UK government to relocate the “most appropriate number as swiftly as possible”.

Both the taskforce and the operations board will meet with local authorities to discuss their specific capacity, expertise and availability of services.

Griffiths said: “This structure will allow us to assess our capability as a nation to respond as quickly as possible to support the most vulnerable Syrian living in camps.”

Although she stressed that refugees would have five years of humanitarian protection to “allow them to start to rebuild their lives”, Griffiths emphasised that she is still awaiting further details from the UK government on how its relocation scheme will proceed.

“I plan to remain in regular contact with Richard Harrington MP [minister for Syrian refugees] to ensure the Welsh government receives the clarification we need from the Home Office and other agencies.

“Organisations need this clarity to adequately assess how many and how quickly refugees can be settled in particular areas,” she added.

She also underlined the “outpouring of compassion and generosity” epitomised by local services including donation collection points, offers of spare rooms and the Refugees Welcome campaign.

She stressed that she does not how many refugees will be accepted into Wales, but Oxfam Cymru urged Griffiths and the Welsh government to take in 724 people before the end of 2016.

In a report responding to Griffiths’ announcement that all local authorities have agreed to take in refugees, Carys Thomas, head of the charity, said: “Wales is well-placed to be a trailblazing nation in its response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Welsh Government and local authorities are also making headway, having hastily convened a taskforce and an operations board to coordinate a comprehensive response.

“However, this remains a real life humanitarian storm, and until pledges become reality they remain just that: pledges.

“This new figure of 724 serves as a reminder that even a small country like Wales can play a big part during times of crisis, and is ready to do so. The Welsh Government has, according to news reports, committed to resettling 1,600 people – we now need to ensure it happens sooner, rather than later.”

Clarity demands in England

In England, councils are also pressing the UK government for more information on how much support they will receive to deal with the “urgent” refugee issue.

In September, the chair of the Commons communities and local government committee, Clive Betts MP, sent a letter to the communities secretary demanding clarity over Whitehall’s cash promises. According to Betts, it was unclear whether the government was committed to providing five years’ worth of resettlement funding to help councils deal with new expenditure.

And just last week, Harrington published a letter in the Times saying that local authorities will receive “additional funding” to assist with costs incurred in the resettlements.

In a separate letter sent to Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s asylum, migration and refugee task group, the Home Office said: “We understand that councils need certainty about the financing of the scheme in order to enter into contracts and commit resources.

“We will be working closely with local government to develop the process for drawing down the funding in order that this certainty can be given, including to those councils offering help under the existing scheme.”

(Top image c. Kerstin Joensson, PA Images)

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