3. Statement by the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip: Anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and Nation of Sanctuary update

– in the Senedd at 2:49 pm on 20 February 2024.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 2:49, 20 February 2024


The next item will be a statement by the Minister for Social Justice: the anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and nation of sanctuary update. The Minister to make the statement—Jane Hutt.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. The twenty-fourth of February marks the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Putin. Since that time, more than 7,500 Ukrainians have been forced to relocate to Wales, with millions more displaced across Europe. This week is a grim milestone for Ukrainians everywhere, but we are determined to show our continued solidarity. Though the war is long, as President Zelenskyy said in the early days of the invasion,

'light will win over darkness'.


The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:50, 20 February 2024

To symbolise this, we will be lighting up some Government buildings in Cardiff this week, and tomorrow evening I will be speaking at an event sponsored by Mick Antoniw MS, here at the Senedd. This is a landmark visit to the UK by front-line medics from Ukraine, including those who have been held in Russian captivity, who are touring the UK alongside a bombed-out ambulance. The event will shine a light on the barbarism of targeting medical facilities—a war crime.

Mick Antoniw MS has also recently returned from a visit to Ukraine with a team of volunteers, transporting much-needed supplies provided by Welsh communities. Our support for Ukrainians here in Wales is unwavering. On a recent visit to the Safe Haven project in Maesteg, I saw the importance of the welcome offered to Ukrainians. I was moved by a powerful speech from a school student who spoke of the history of the conflict and the support opportunities she has received. I would like to thank the host families who have welcomed Ukrainian guests into their homes across Wales.

For months I have been seeking commitments from the UK Government for extensions to visas or a right to settlement. And I was pleased to see an announcement yesterday that those with Ukraine schemes visas will be able to extend their right to remain in the UK for a further 18 months. The period of extension is not quite what we had hoped for, and there is still no right to settlement, but I know many Ukrainians in Wales will value the certainty of knowing that another 18 months in Wales is achievable. We know many will not have homes to return to at the end of that period and we will continue to work for a compassionate and person-centred approach in months and years ahead.

There are clearly many finer details of the extension arrangements that need to be worked through and answers communicated to Ukrainians in our communities. The UK Government also introduced many changes to the immigration rules relating to existing Ukraine schemes yesterday afternoon, but we need some time to understand their likely impact in Wales. We will continue to engage with the Home Office to ensure the Ukraine schemes are fit for purpose and the actions Ukrainians need to take are fully understood and supported.

For supersponsor beneficiaries who have travelled and taken up our offer of initial accommodation, we continue to make great progress in supporting people to move to longer term accommodation across Wales and beyond where Ukrainians can continue to settle amongst our communities. There are now fewer than 90 individuals remaining across three initial accommodation sites, and we are working closely with local authorities to support these remaining households to move on, including through our transitional accommodation capital programme. We remain on course to close our initial accommodation sites entirely during 2024. Our team Wales approach, with all local authorities and third sector partners pulling together to support Ukrainians to move on across Wales, facilitated by the national move-on taskforce operated by Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, has been critical to this success. Over 2,000 guests have now been supported into longer term accommodation within the last year, enabling us to close 28 initial accommodation venues. Not only have we been able to support hundreds of households to successfully settle within our local communities, but we have also significantly reduced our anticipated initial accommodation budget at a time of severe financial pressures.

Despite these successes, we have also had to grapple with some acute challenges in supporting sanctuary seekers in recent months. In particular, the Home Office’s drive to eliminate their legacy backlog of asylum claims led to a large increase in homeless refugees in the run-up to Christmas. As a result of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and Illegal Migration Act 2023, we have two other asylum backlogs operating for those arriving since each Act was passed, despite claims to have solved these issues. 

We are currently experiencing a crisis in the availability of immigration legal advice, which will have knock-on homelessness, destitution and exploitation impacts in our communities if not addressed. We have repeatedly asked the UK Government to use its powers to ensure sufficient legal aid is available in Wales, but it has so far declined to act. The legal aid system is a reserved matter and we are reliant upon the UK Government to take the necessary actions to prevent the collapse of this sector. But we are exploring limited Welsh Government actions we could take and are continuing to call upon the UK Government to recognise the impact of a failure to act.

Working with the Welsh Local Government Association and our local authority partners, we've recently introduced new governance arrangements to underpin our team Wales approach. This includes the establishment of a nation of sanctuary strategic oversight board, which I co-chair with the WLGA’s spokesperson on housing. Members include local authority leaders, representatives from our wider public sector services, third sector partners and representatives from the Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We've also established a nation of sanctuary partnership board to ensure engagement at senior official level across all our partners. Whilst the asylum system is a UK Government responsibility, this board provides an important platform to try to work with them to deliver an effective system that supports local communities and sanctuary seekers. We will continue to help them deliver their asylum dispersal plan and highlight issues where they arise, recognising that it is clearly the responsibility of the UK Government to ensure that the dispersal plan is implemented.

Dirprwy Lywydd, Wales is a nation of sanctuary. We are proud to offer people fleeing war, conflict and abuse a place of refuge, safety and sanctuary in Wales. We've been overwhelmed by the generosity of people across Wales who've opened their homes to people fleeing the awful conflict in Ukraine. But Wales has also welcomed people fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and Hong Kong. Being a nation of sanctuary in Wales means supporting everyone who comes to Wales to play a full part in our communities and economy. Wales needs migration to maintain and grow our population and to support businesses and the public sector. Migration keeps our communities vibrant and helps our economy thrive. Diolch.

Photo of Mark Isherwood Mark Isherwood Conservative 2:56, 20 February 2024

Russia is a country that is a magnificent country, and its people deserve so much better than Vladimir Putin and his fascist gang. With the anniversary of Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine next Saturday approaching, and with his barbarous attempts to silence democratic opposition of recent days, we must remember that Putin is not only an international war criminal and mass murderer, but a despicable little man and vile tyrant.

I'm sure the Minister will agree that a huge gratitude is owed to the people of Ukraine for defending the front line of western freedoms on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. Questioning you here last June, I noted that, in responding to your previous statements on both Ukraine and nation of sanctuary, I had repeatedly raised the issue of housing and proposed modular housing as part of the solution, as across the water in Ireland. You'd previously referred to the need to remove our Ukrainian guests into longer term accommodation, some of which is modular accommodation developed across Wales. So, what, if any, specific allocation is being provided for refugees?

I also noted that, then, the £150 million fund to help Ukrainians into their own homes had been formally announced by the UK Government, with £8 million for Wales, and asked you to confirm how this would be allocated and whether it would be distributed by the Welsh Government and/or to councils to help Ukrainian families into private rented accommodation and find work, as in England. In your response, you stated that 936 additional properties were funded under the transitional accommodation capital programme 'for this year and into next year'—i.e. this year—and it's a range of accommodation solutions across Wales, not just modular housing, but bringing void or mothballed properties back into use, converting buildings, demolition and new build as well. Given that almost 90,000 households in Wales are on social housing waiting lists at present, how many properties have now been funded through the transitional accommodation capital programme, how many of these have been allocated for Ukrainian or other refugees, and how many additional homes, including new builds and new modular housing, have been delivered to meet the needs of Ukrainian and other refugees in Wales? Given that the UK has offered or extended sanctuary to more than 238,000 Ukrainians, how many of these are now in Wales, and is Wales taking its fair share, where England houses 16 asylum seekers for every 10,000 people, but Wales takes just nine? What action will you be taking to address this, if any?

When I last visited Mold Jobcentre Plus, as I previously referred, I learned about the great work they were doing supporting Ukrainians keen to work and contribute. In this context, can you provide an update on English for speakers of other languages courses, ESOL, and on the transferability of their qualifications to Wales?

The Wales free bus travel scheme for refugees, the welcome ticket, which commenced on 26 March 2022 and will continue until 31 March 2024 with arrangements for after then being considered, provides eligible persons with free unlimited travel on all local bus services across Wales, including those that operate into England where their journey starts and finishes in Wales, with exclusions only applying to National Express and Stagecoach Megabus services. What is now planned for after 31 March? I e-mailed you at the weekend on behalf of constituents hosting their second family from Ukraine, and I thank you for your holding response. The driver on the bus service through their village, provided by Townlynx based in Holywell, told them that he would take their Ukrainian guests this time, but that they wouldn't be allowed on again. How did the Welsh Government, therefore, commission the free bus travel scheme for refugees and what action can or will you take in such circumstances?

As you indicated, yesterday the UK Government announced an 18-month visa extension scheme for Ukrainians who sought sanctuary in the UK following Russia's illegal invasion, meaning that they will now be able to stay in the UK until September 2026. Those in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the Ukraine family scheme, or Ukraine extension scheme will be eligible to apply for the extension within the last three months of an existing visa. Although the Ukraine family scheme is being closed, Ukrainian nationals who would've qualified under this will still be able to apply to Homes for Ukraine, and families settled here can still sponsor a family member to come to the UK under Homes for Ukraine. How will these changes impact on Welsh Government planning, and what action are you taking to meet this extended need, both at Welsh Government level and through engagement with the UK Government? Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 3:02, 20 February 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Mark Isherwood. I concur with you fully on your words about the barbarism of Putin and, as is, I think, reflected across this Chamber, the great gratitude in recognition of the bravery, courage and strength of the people of Ukraine for their ongoing courage to fight and resist Putin's invasion of their nation. It is important that we are making this statement here together today. They are important questions that you raise about how we have supported. Two years ago, we were here just to express together our shame and horror at Putin's invasion and recognise, also, the courage of those people in Russia who are now also standing up against Putin, taking great risks with their lives. We know that there are so many civilians in that position.

But what have we done? It is time to acknowledge and take account of what's happened and how Wales and, as you say, the people of Wales and its institutions, local government, third sector, churches, mosques, and how everyone has responded. Just, again, to repeat, we've welcomed over 7,400 Ukrainians under the Homes for Ukraine scheme to the UK, including almost 3,300 under our supersponsor route, and it is important that that's on the record today. We've helped over 2,600 people move through our initial accommodation, those welcome centres, across the whole of Wales, and I've mentioned the fact that we're going to move to closing the last few welcome centres this year. So, we have to thank, again, our key partners supporting us to help those 2,600 people from those welcome centres, that initial accommodation, into longer term accommodation—the team Wales approach. And I've already acknowledged the role, of course, of the people of Wales who offered their hearts and homes, kindness and commitment as hosts. I think that's something where, again, we are looking at some of the detail of the announcements.

I met with the UK Government Minister alongside the Scottish Government Minister, the Deputy Minister for Northern Ireland and the Minister for Northern Ireland. It was so good that we were all meeting together last week to discuss these announcements that were coming forward. But we raised questions about whether, for example, thankyou payments can continue—these are details that we need to look at, because we also want to support those hosts who are still coming forward. And just to say, in terms of our welcome centres, I mentioned that we've only got 90 guests left in our welcome centres because of the success of the move-on. At the peak of the project, there were over 1,900 guests in more than 40 venues across Wales, and many of you will have visited those venues.

Just to follow up your question about the accommodation that's been used, the transitional accommodation capital programme, in the first year, provided £76.4 million to local authorities and registered social landlords to bring forward 936 homes. It is now open for new applications in this financial year, and we'll continue to work with RSLs and local authorities to deliver more homes. It includes a range of projects: bringing empty properties back into use, remodelling and conversion of existing buildings, the modular buildings that many will have seen in their own constituencies, and also recognising that, actually, these are homes for people in temporary accommodation, including those being resettled from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine.

You've mentioned employment and ESOL. It's key to supporting our Ukrainian guests to move into their own accommodation and gain independence. And, of course, the skills that Ukrainian guests have brought to Wales are much needed, and also their desire to improve their English, fitting lessons around work and studying commitments. I just wanted to share that over 600 Ukrainians in Wales have signed up to STEP Ukraine, which is an intensive virtual 12-week English language and employment programme for Ukrainians in the UK.

As far as the welcome ticket is concerned, we are pleased we've been able to provide the welcome ticket free public transport scheme for two years. Changes to the way the bus industry is funded means that we are considering alternative methods of delivering support in the future. We are making these decisions now and will communicate these fully as those discussions are concluded. Thank you for contacting me at the weekend, Mark, giving me an account of a disappointing and upsetting incident. There have been these incidents where people who are seeking sanctuary have either being wrongly denied travel or feel that they have been unfairly treated. In any case where this happens we will look into the circumstances and work with the travel operator. It's the travel operator's responsibility, but we will look to the travel operator responsible to try to rectify matters.

Just finally, Dirprwy Lywydd, it is important that we look at what is going to happen with the Ukraine schemes' future. They are important schemes, and I hope I will be able to update Members. We only just got the details yesterday. There are questions to be clarified so that those forthcoming arrangements will support safe and legal routes, and, obviously, we're working very closely with the Home Office on this matter. There's a new permission extension scheme to enable Ukrainians in Wales to plan a little further ahead and reduce anxiety about where they will be from March 2025 onwards. But what we have said is applications for extension of visa must be free, must be low cost, they must be simple and not need legal advice. They mustn't be left on a cliff edge in terms of their status. So, that is something that we're clarifying. But, of course, closing the Ukraine family scheme, reducing the period of leave to remain for Homes for Ukraine visas to 18 months instead of 36 months, are major changes, and ending the opportunities for chain sponsorship. These issues we have been seeking clarifications on. And, also, just in terms of our own schemes, our understanding is that the changes announced by the UK Government don't prevent anyone issued with a supersponsor visa from travelling to the UK if they've not done so already.

Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru

It's a terrible anniversary that we are marking today: two years since Ukraine's lands were illegally invaded, its cities bombed and people driven from their homes in terror. We have rightly condemned the illegal and barbaric actions of Putin and have played our part in helping support refugees from this conflict find sanctuary and refuge in Wales. Wales has been praised for its humanitarian response, the supersponsor scheme, the involvement of our local authorities and national organisations like Urdd Gobaith Cymru, a shining beacon in the darkness of these last two years of war and displacement. I’d like to place on record Plaid Cymru’s thanks to all those in Wales who have helped and who are helping our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in their time of need.

The contrast of the international response to the war in Ukraine to the ongoing attack of the Israeli Government on Gaza is one that must be highlighted in this context, because you’ve said, Minister, that Wales as a nation of sanctuary must support all of those needing sanctuary, fleeing war. Therefore, do you agree that the state of the United Kingdom, of which we’re a part, should not be selective in its support or solidarity for victims of war and displaced people? Because Palestine has the longest unsettled refugee crisis in recent history, a crisis that is almost now beyond horrific adjectives. As the Ukrainian people do, they want nothing more than to return to their houses, their classrooms, their businesses, much of which have been obliterated by the bombs of an aggressor. The people of Gaza have not in the main had the same ability to flee the bombs and the bullets and the degradation inflicted upon them, and even if they could have found their way out of what the United Nations Secretary General has called a humanitarian nightmare, they would not have been granted a specific legal immigration route to get here.

Plaid Cymru’s leader Rhun ap Iorwerth and Westminster leader Liz Saville-Roberts have both pressed on the UK Government to reinstate funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which has provided crucial support to millions of Palestinian refugees, calling the suspension of support by the UK Government a moral and strategic error. Does the Welsh Government support this call? What conversations have you been having with the UK Government on ensuring support for those displaced by the war in Gaza and facing this humanitarian catastrophe? And now that it seems your Labour colleagues in Westminster are finally beginning to understand that a pause in the fighting is not sufficient, will you as a Government make the call for an immediate ceasefire yourselves, given your righteous condemnation of the actions of Putin and the plight of the people of Ukraine?

Powers are, of course, reserved over immigration matters, as you said, and the ongoing support provided to all those who have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in Wales is limited by Westminster. So, although you’re obviously seeking clarification, do you agree it’s disgraceful that the Tory Westminster Government have announced that they will be stopping Ukrainians from joining family members in Wales without warning? What message do you think this sends to those who have lost everything and to whom we want to and should offer sanctuary from war? Do you agree that there should be an end to these kinds of ad hoc policies like this and ensure Government introduces a global scheme that gives the same rights, including family reunification, to everybody needing it, regardless of nationality?

Plaid Cymru has received concerns from Welsh local authorities and also the Welsh Refugee Council concerning the long-term planning for the scheme meant to support Ukrainian refugees. With the UK Government ending their thankyou support payment in April next year, hosts in Wales will no longer receive the financial support that they need to continue their wonderful hosting of Ukrainian refugees. The payments, of course, acted also as an incentive to encourage people to become hosts. So, how is the Welsh Government addressing this risk that Ukrainian families will be forced to find their own accommodation and perhaps face homelessness, adding to an already huge pressure on housing and homelessness services, which seriously underfunded local authorities are already trying to deal with? Will you be expecting local authorities to undertake the same duties with fewer resources, especially given the proposed cut in the budget for support for Ukrainian refugees?

And finally, in the ‘Nation of Sanctuary—Refugee and Asylum Seeker Plan’ progress report recently published, work to ensure homelessness prevention strategies in the four dispersal areas take account of the vulnerability of new refugees to homelessness was marked as amber. Can you outline what action is being taken to address that? Diolch.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 3:14, 20 February 2024

Diolch, Sioned Williams. Yes, as you say, it's a terrible anniversary that we mark today. Again, I thank you for recognising the widespread humanitarian response in Wales that we’ve seen. It’s good again to put on the record remembering the role of the Urdd as one of the first welcome centres. And of course, I would also like to thank the Urdd for the work that they did in responding to the Afghan evacuation, those fleeing from the Taliban, and how we saw that response here on our doorstep, with the Urdd opening their doors to Afghan children and families. And I do want to say, just on that point, that Wales has now welcomed over 800 people from Afghanistan and work continues to increase this further. And I think Welsh local authorities again must be recognised and must be praised for the amazing outcome in successfully moving on most Afghan families from UK Government-procured hotels. In August of last year, we visited—well, over the course, that was nearly two years—hotels and worked with local authorities to have that amazing move-on. And particularly recognising Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan councils, as well as all the others who supported their move-on, working tirelessly to reduce the number of families who had been made homeless. As, of course, we were working with those families who came from Syria and supporting them as well.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 3:16, 20 February 2024

Well, yes, you have obviously reflected on wider issues of world conflict, which are important to us in terms of our international relations and understanding and our global responsibilities and citizenship. What we have to see is that in terms of—. The fact is, it's a humanitarian crisis that we see in Gaza. Too many civilians, including women and children, losing their lives. And we must get greater aid into Gaza—and, most importantly, the safe return of hostages and supporting British nationals. So, I mean, this is something, where—. Again, this links us not just to the nation of sanctuary, but to community cohesion, and we have stood with and met with Jewish and Muslim communities since the conflict began, and we continue to speak with Muslim and Jewish communities to see what assistance that we can provide.

It is important that we get clarity of the issues that you raise in terms of the future of the Ukrainian scheme. I've already said that we've made a number of calls, as I did at the inter-ministerial group last week. We need to ensure the proposed arrangements so that Ukrainian people, our neighbours, our guests, have the information and the advice that they need, because it is going to be a major change, closing the Ukraine family scheme—. It was really important, the family scheme, at the early stage of the invasion, but, actually, applications have now run their course and we've asked the Home Office to take learning from this scheme into their other family reunion schemes. And reducing the period of leave to remain under Homes for Ukraine—it appears concerning, but we have been told all Homes for Ukraine visa holders will be eligible for the permission extension scheme. So, this would grant 18 months, followed by a further 18 months. And it's important that visa holders are able to apply earlier for an extension to prevent difficulties in securing tenancies or jobs, which is, of course, as we've said, the ways in which there's been such settlement and integration as a result of our guests coming to Wales.

I've mentioned the supersponsor scheme; we're working to confirm urgently that no-one will be prevented if they have a supersponsor visa from travelling to the UK. And I've also mentioned earlier on the importance of the 'thank you' payments to be available for the hosts of those who extend their visas and for them to understand how the application processes work.

I think it is important that we look at this in the wider context, at ways in which we are trying to engage, as we seek to do, with the UK Government, working most closely with our local authorities in terms of grappling—and it is grappling—with the asylum policy. The UK Government has a hostile environment strategy. We have pressed for sufficient safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to claim asylum from outside the UK, and, of course, this would negate the need for perilous journeys and disrupt the people smugglers, but what we need to do is ensure that quicker asylum decisions are made, but they must not lead to homelessness and destitution, which actually happened when the backlog was being reduced. But we must also ensure that our team Wales approach works to effect the most important need to welcome sanctuary seekers from across the world. But we do know that this requires us to work closely together to ensure that we can, with our local authorities, and that's why the strategic partnership board I mentioned will be so important. We've got a real important—. We've gone on an important journey together in terms of welcoming Syrian, Afghan and now Ukrainian refugees. Today we are focusing on those Ukrainian guests, thinking of their circumstances, their lives, their families, the families they've left behind, their loved ones at war and loved ones lost, the homes that they've lost, and ensuring that we can continue to ensure that that welcome is here in Wales.

Photo of Rhianon Passmore Rhianon Passmore Labour 3:20, 20 February 2024

Minister, thank you very much for your statement today. Two years may have passed since the predatory Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the threat to democracy and the values that we all here in this Chamber hold dear in Wales and the west has also greatly increased and not diminished. As Finland joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the middle east almost reaches the top to boiling point, we witness the shocking death of Putin's greatest threat to a Russian spring. Just today, we have seen Yulia Navalnaya's X—formerly known as Twitter—account suspended, just a day after she used the platform to continue her husband's lifelong campaigning for free and fair elections and a democratic Russia, and that will never be silenced.

In your statement, Minister, you rightly commend the work of our colleague and friend, Mick Antoniw, who has vividly brought the Ukrainian invasion and conflict home to the people of Wales, with regular visits to Ukraine and with volunteers transporting supplies donated by Welsh communities. The danger, though, that these conflicts present to democracy and democracies reverberates across the world, and the geopolitical faults are widening as western and Russian allies coalesce around the middle east. Bearing in mind, then, the increasing call for further sanctions against Russia and this Senedd's limited jurisdiction and mandate and as a nation of sanctuary, how, then, do you envisage, Minister, the Welsh Government support for the people of Ukraine developing throughout 2024? And with the withdrawing of UK-Ukraine family schemes, what further moves do you hope to see from the UK Government to show solidarity for the cause of freedom and democracy?

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 3:22, 20 February 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Rhianon Passmore. I'm glad you've also widened this to reflect on the situation with the horrific death of Alexei Navalny and to recognise Putin is there, Putin is responsible, and also to acknowledge the huge courage and bravery of Yulia Navalnaya. I just want to comment on a piece that was written about Alexei at the weekend by Odessa Rae, when she said,

'He spent the last 15 years of his life working through his foundation in the hope of dethroning Putin from his authoritarian regime. I know he would urge that mission, and his message to Russia would be to not become something of the past but something that is continued in some way—that they do not, in the words of Dylan Thomas, go quietly into the night.'

And I think it is important that we reflect on that today, as we look at the impact of this with a global perspective and recognise that that's why we must support Ukrainian people.

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour 3:24, 20 February 2024

I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and grateful also to the Minister for her statement this afternoon. I think it is important that we join together to recognise the courage of the people of Ukraine, who have been withstanding Putin's invasion for two years now. I would also like to pay tribute to the leadership that the Minister has shown during that time, but also to the leadership of Mick Antoniw, who was last week in Ukraine delivering more materials, support and aid to the people who are on the front lines, and I think we should all across the Chamber recognise the work that Mick has undertaken in this period.

The two years of horrific violence against Ukraine by Putin, of course—it's impossible not also to reflect, as has already been done, on the murder of Alexei Navalny last week, murdered by Putin. He couldn't break him, so he killed him, and I think that demonstrates the nature of the regime that the people of Ukraine are fighting against. I was disappointed to hear yesterday that UK Government has closed the Ukraine family visa scheme without any warning at all. It would be useful, Minister, if the Welsh Government could speak urgently to UK Ministers to ensure that all people who require sanctuary in Wales and the United Kingdom are able to access that support without any hesitation or without delay. Also reducing the length of visas from 36 months to 18 months is very difficult for some families, and I think we need to take that on.

And, finally, Minister, in your discussions with the UK Government, I also think it's important that we recognise what Ukraine requires in order to continue the fight for democracy. What we've seen over the last few weeks is Ukrainian forces being pushed back by the power and strength of Russian forces who have greater arms and greater access to manpower. Ukraine does need the support of western allies, but it also needs missiles. It needs rockets, it needs shells and other munitions in order to defeat the Russian invasion. Warm words from politicians are worth nothing on the front lines of Donetsk and eastern Ukraine at the moment. We need to ensure that they have the arms and the munitions to defeat the Russian invasion.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 3:26, 20 February 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Alun Davies. It is important that we stand up to Putin. We can all stand up to Putin—we are today—and to the aggression of Putin and his forces. And this is why marking the courage and the strength of the Ukrainian cause is so important today in terms of this anniversary. And it is also why we have to ensure that these changes are robust and that they do enable Ukrainians to not only stay here, those who fled that conflict, but that others can also come here. And, of course, I would extend that to other refugees in other parts of the world who we've supported, like our refugees from Afghanistan and Syria.

I have said that I am asking the Home Office to learn from the Ukraine family scheme and recognise the impact it has had, because I think one point, and I think Mark Isherwood raised this, is that we've had this chain sponsorship that's been used to unite families here in Wales. I raised this. We're concerned about the loss of this element for Homes for Ukraine, because it enabled families to unite. We have asked the UK Government to work with them on alternative routes to support family reunion. We know that families are separated and they continue to be separated. So, we seek to look at that as well.

And also, I think there is a point, and I've raised this regularly, that some Ukrainians want a route to settlement in Wales. Many won't have homes to return to in Ukraine. We do continue to push for this, but, obviously, offering a route to settlement—we have to do this in partnership and with the understanding of our Ukrainian friends and Government. We know that the Ukrainian Government will need most of their citizens to return to help to rebuild in time. An extension scheme is a pragmatic step forward. We asked for two years—18 months. But how it is delivered and how it's managed—now, you can certainly be holding me to account, and this Government, in terms of how we take this forward in the way that you describe.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:28, 20 February 2024


I now call on Mick Antoniw to make a brief contribution to the statement.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this statement as we approach the second anniversary of the illegal invasion of Ukraine. So, three days ago, I returned from Kyiv delivering three vehicles and supplies on behalf of the Senedd cross-party group supporting Ukraine. So, I particularly want to thank Alun Davies for his work on this group, and his support for the delivery of the material support, including driving thousands of miles across Europe to Pavlohrad in eastern Ukraine. Support so far has amounted to 15 vehicles delivered, and supplies with an estimated value of around £1 million. I also recognise the considerable support from the National Union of Mineworkers, Welsh trade unions and branches, companies such as Alcumus in Nantgarw and Highadmit in Talbot Green, and many individuals and groups who have supported this work. And I also recognise the support from Welsh veterans and Welsh-based groups such as UK for UA, a fantastic Welsh group who are on their forty-eighth—their forty-eighth—delivery of material aid to Ukraine. In Kyiv, we met with members of the miners' unions, volunteers and front-line soldiers. There was an absolute determination in Ukraine to win the war with Russia because there is no alternative. It is a war against Russian fascism. It is a war Ukraine and the democratic world must win. The alternative for Ukrainians is the deportation of children to add to the estimated 80,000 children already stolen, the systematic rape, torture, execution, mass deportation of population, Russification and destruction of the Ukrainian language, culture and identity. This is happening already in occupied parts of Ukraine.

It was expected that Ukraine would collapse within a week, and it didn't. Ukraine has forced a Black sea fleet out of the Black sea despite not even having a navy. Grain exports have been restored. Russia has lost an estimated 380,000 soldiers, but has little regard for the lives of its citizens, most of whom come from ethnic minorities within the Russian Federation. But it has been replenished with considerable supplies of weapons and ammunition from North Korea and Iran. So, the war is now in a perilous situation. The lack of long-range missiles and ammunition, the paralysis of support from America, the failure of Nato so far to deliver the level of ammunition promised encourages Putin and puts victory at risk. There remains much more the UK Government can do and should do.

Failure to defeat Putin will destabilise the whole of Europe. Moldova, Georgia, the Baltic countries and others are all under threat. The murder of Navalny in Russia, murders on UK shores and in other parts of the world, are a return to the Stalinist tactics of the past. The world must now unite to defeat Putin, and, for those who say we cannot afford the cost, I'd say that we cannot afford not to. There will be a long-term price for failure for every citizen in the UK and Europe if he is not stopped, for generations to come. As ever, I and the Ukrainian communities in Wales that made their home in Wales, welcome and appreciate the ongoing support from the Welsh and from the UK Governments, and, in particular, from the people of Wales. Ukraine must now be given the weapons and support necessary to win and end the war. And as we learnt from history in 1938, you cannot appease fascism. Слава Україні! Героям слава! Перемогам!

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:33, 20 February 2024


Thank you, Mick, and thank you, Minister.