The UK Government needs to “cut the red tape” to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian aggression, The Welsh First Minister has said.
Mark Drakeford on Tuesday called on Boris Johnson and his Cabinet to “revisit its immigration policies” in order to simplify the process which allows those escaping conflict to enter the country.
It comes amid criticism of the British Government over its slow response to the refugee crisis, with the Home Office revealing on Monday it had only granted 300 visa applications out of 17,700 which had been started – with 8,900 submitted.
More than two million people are said to have now fled the war-torn country, with the figure expected to rise as Russia keeps up its bombardment of civilian areas.
In a tweet, Mr Drakeford wrote: “Wales is ready to support refugees from Ukraine but more needs to be done to ensure safe and easy travel routes are available.
“The UK Government needs to revisit its immigration policies to cut the red tape and do more to help those fleeing the violence in Ukraine.”
Mr Drakeford has repeatedly said Wales is ready to welcome refugees and he had been holding urgent talks with local authority leaders to ensure preparations are in place.
Leader of the opposition and Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies wrote in the Sunday Times that Labour ministers must ensure there is capacity in housing and other public services for the refugees or “run the risk of succeeding in warm words and hot air while failing to meet the needs of vulnerable people”.
In response, a Welsh Government spokesman today said: “The UK Government is responsible for immigration policy and they are failing to provide a simple and secure process to allow Ukrainian refugees into the country.
At a press briefing, Wales’ minister for social justice Jane Hutt said: “The UK government must put in place simple, fast, safe and legal routes to sanctuary to ensure that those seeking sanctuary are able to get here to safety.
“This was the very clear ask of our First Minister, which he made to the UK Prime Minister in recent correspondence, along with the need to remove the requirement for Ukrainians to provide biometric evidence before leaving Ukraine.
“I’m also calling on the UK Government to create a fully funded refugee resettlement scheme, drawing on the previous experience from the Afghan and Syrian programmes.”
“Local authorities across Wales have been receiving offers of accommodation from people who have spare rooms available and want to help.
“We don’t know yet when people may begin arriving from Ukraine or how many may come but we’re prepared to support all those who do.
“There is a strong humanitarian focus across Wales and a strong desire to step forward. We are a nation of sanctuary ready to play our part in response to this devastating crisis.”
The Welsh Tories will lead a debate about Ukraine in the Senedd on Wednesday, when they will call on all parties to formally condemn the Russian invasion of the country and show its backing for Nato.