UK’s reputation ‘damaged round the world’ by turning away Ukrainian refugees at Calais says Mark Drakeford
Turning away Ukrainian refugees at Calais has “damaged the reputation” of the UK “around the world”, the First Minister has said.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has been criticised this week after turning Ukrainians away at Calais and saying that other people who were trying to travel to the UK were trying to take advantage by claiming that they were fleeing Ukraine’s war zone.
They have now said that they will open a new visa application centre – 70 miles away in Lille – but the Home Office was unable to say when it would start taking appointments.
Speaking in the Senedd, Mark Drakeford said: “The accounts of what has happened in Calais have damaged the reputation of this country around the world.
“When the Home Secretary said that she was surging a team to Calais to help people, it turned out to be three people with a box of KitKat and crisps.
“How can the UK Government possibly think that people in those circumstances are going to be able to make their way across the continent of Europe to yet further capitals?”
Mrk Drakeford contrasted the attitude of the UK Government with that of the public.
“The level of generosity shown here in Wales and across the United Kingdom to people who now need our help is absolutely striking, isn’t it?” he said.
“They expect their Government to respond in the same way and they do not expect people who live in this country already, who are British citizens already, to be turned away at Calais and told that they don’t have the right piece of paper and now have to make their way elsewhere.”
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said that in May 1937 hundreds of Basque children fleeing fascism had been welcomed in Wales as part of a concerted effort organised voluntarily “in the teeth of inaction from the British Government at the time”.
“Is this something that we can seek to emulate now, but not in the hundreds, but in the thousands?” he asked.
Mark Drakeford responded that he had already raised with UK Ministers ways in which the Welsh Government could do things differently here in Wales.
“There are further discussions to be had this week, and what I’ve asked the UK Government to do is to give us the flexibility that we would need here in Wales to be able to do things in the most effective way, because we are simply better placed to be able to do that closer to where those decisions need to be made than somebody sitting in Whitehall trying to devise a further bureaucratic solution to the humanitarian crisis,” he said.
“And if we are able to play a part through the offer that Wizz Air has made, and Members here will know about it—Wizz Air offering to fly at its own expense 100,000 people to the United Kingdom, particularly from those countries that have already absorbed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people into their communities while we struggle to get a handful of people into the United Kingdom.
“So, Wizz Air has made that offer, Cardiff Airport could be an important part of making that happen, we of course are in conversations with the chief executive and others in the team at the airport, they are on standby right round the clock to be part of any further discussions, there will be more meetings later this week to see whether or not playing a part in that way could become part of the way in which the United Kingdom discharges our moral obligation, as the leader of Plaid Cymru said—our moral obligation to do everything we can to help.”
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