Wales willing to welcome 'first wave' of 1,000 Ukrainian refugees says Drakeford

In a letter to UK Government minister Michael Gove, Mark Drakeford and Scotland's First Minister set out proposals for their countries to become "super sponsors" of Ukrainian refugees.

The First Minister has said that Wales would like to welcome 1,000 Ukrainian refugees in a first stage of a "super-sponsorship" scheme.

Mark Drakeford and Scotland's First Minister have written to the UK Government minister Michael Gove to call for a "fair and proportionate" number of refugees to be allocated to their respective devolved nation.

It comes as it's been announced that the UK Government will launch a "Homes for Ukraine" scheme this week to allow individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring people fleeing the war in Ukraine to safety here in the UK even if they have no family or other ties here.

Under the scheme, those offering homes to refugees would receive a thank you payment of £350 a month.

It's seen as being the UK Government's answer to sustained criticism of its handling of the refugee crisis following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In their letter, Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon set out "how we would like to support this initiative in Scotland and Wales.

"This offer is based on a desire to see our respective countries given maximum flexibility and therefore able to take maximum responsibility to work with partners in the public, private and third sectors to support refugees arriving from Ukraine."

The First Ministers say the UK Government's Humanitarian Scheme does not go far enough and that it should involve waiving the need for visas.

However they go on to say that they would like to see the Welsh and Scottish Governments act as overall sponsor of the scheme as it is run in their countries and they warn that they will not support the Humanitarian Scheme if their proposal is rejected.

The Senedd is illuminated in the colours of the Ukrainian flag at night.

The letter reads: "The phrase used on our call was “super sponsor”.

"In this context a fair and proportionate number of refugees would be allocated to Scotland and Wales and the Scottish and Welsh Governments, working with their partners, would take forward the provision of accommodation, safeguarding and access to services as they have done successfully to support refugees in the past."

They say that their proposal would allow Wales to offer resettlement to a first wave of 1,000 refugees and Scotland 3000.

The letter continues: "We would build capacity from there for each country to take its fair and proportionate share of the total number of refugees entering the UK.

"We are confident we can deliver a comprehensive offer in Scotland and in Wales which incorporates contributions from private citizens and the third sector but draws in the capacity of the wider public service and their experience of large scale resettlement in the past."

The First Ministers say that their suggestion offers the best of both worlds - allowing private individuals to help out but using the capacity of wider government.

Speaking to ITV Wales at Welsh Labour’s conference in Llandudno, the First Minister said that he welcomed the UK Government’s announcement as a “step forward.”

He said that if the Welsh Government acts as he’s proposed, “we could make the resettlement of people from Ukraine happen more quickly and we could help to put in place the services that are going to be needed".

He added: “People are going to be coming to Wales from a war zone. It won’t be as simple as them just finding a place in somebody’s home - they’re going to need help with that resettlement process and we could help to mobilise that.

“I think if you were somebody - and people in wales have been incredibly generous opening their home to somebody - it’s not going to be as simple as it might look. 

"Those people will have gone through some terrible experiences and they will be very focussed on what is happening to other people they know in Ukraine, they may have little or no English.

"They will be looking for services, education for their children, access to the health service and so on and just leaving it to the individual who has been willing to open their home up to cope with all that, I don’t think is fair to either side.”

The UK Government's Department for Levelling Up, which will administer the scheme, has been approached for a response.

The UK Government is launching a scheme to allow people to house Ukrainians fleeing the war, even if they have no family ties here. Credit: AP

Reacting to the letter, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Social Justice Minister Mark Isherwood MS said: "We are pleased that the Cardiff Bay administration wants to play its part but, as we’ve said before, rhetoric has to be matched by action.

"These refugees, fleeing an unjust war on their homeland, need homes, healthcare, jobs, and education.

"The Labour Government should be allocating resources for this, but we still have no details, all the while Afghan refugees are still in hotels and B&Bs across the country, waiting for a sustainable lifestyle several months on after arriving in Wales.

"It is also disappointing that Mark Drakeford has developed a habit of needing his hand held by nationalists, so he could not send his letter to the Conservative Government without someone who does not believe in the existence of this country by his side, once again.”

He added:  "I am also being contacted by groups working to prepare for the arrival of Ukrainian nationals and others affected by the war who will come to North Wales.

"I doubt that they will want to hear Mr. Drakeford and his Government threatening not to support the UK Government's Humanitarian Scheme."