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Welsh Government wraps up free bus travel scheme for refugees

27 Mar 2024 4 minute read
A bus journey in Swansea.

Emily Price

A free bus travel scheme to help refugees integrate more effectively in Welsh life is being wrapped up by the Welsh Government.

The scheme was rolled out in March 2022 as part of a package of support measures to help those seeking sanctuary in Wales.

It’s estimated that over the last two years around 1 million journeys were undertaken through the Welcome Ticket scheme.

The scheme was a condition of the £200m Bus Emergency Scheme and then the Bus Transition Fund, which was put in place to help support the post-pandemic recovery of the bus and rail industry.

This fund will end on March 31 and as a result the current Welcome Ticket scheme will also end.

Although it was available to anyone with refugee status regardless of the country they came from – there were reports that some drivers had misunderstood the criteria and were turning away refugees unless they were from Ukraine.

The Welcome Ticket was also criticised for not including asylum seekers who are awaiting their refugee status.

The Welsh Government says it is reviewing the possibility of a similar scheme being rolled out later this year.

The Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt said: “Any new scheme would be designed to prevent discrimination and the other unintended situations we have encountered with the current phase of the scheme.”


Swansea was Wales’ first city to be declared a City of Sanctuary – only the second in the UK.

A spokesperson for Swansea City of Sanctuary said: “The Welcome Ticket scheme has been vital in providing essential mobility for refugees in Wales, offering people the means to access vital services, employment opportunities, and community engagement.

“It has made a real difference for those who are beginning to build their lives in Wales. We worry that the gap in this scheme will worsen issues of discrimination and exclusion.

“Any transition between schemes must prioritise the continuity of support for refugees, and address the underlying issues that have arisen during the implementation of the Welcome Ticket scheme. This is an opportunity to standardise free travel for refugees, and make it such that there is no ambiguity for bus drivers.

“Not only this, but we strongly advocate for extending free transport rights to people seeking asylum. Asylum seekers, who are without recourse to public funds and have no right to work, face significant barriers to mobility and integration.

“Providing free transport for both refugees and asylum seekers represents a tangible step towards realising Wales’ vision as a Nation of Sanctuary.”


Plaid Cymru has criticised the funding withdrawal which they say provided a vital service for refugees.

Sioned Williams MS, Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Social Justice, and Member of Senedd for South Wales West, said: “Providing free public transport to those who have had to flee war and famine, might be a small gesture, but it’s of real value to those who have started to try and rebuild their lives here in Wales.

“The people of Swansea have shown how supportive and welcoming they are to those seeking sanctuary and the removal of this scheme will be a particular blow to those involved in the City of Sanctuary work.

“It’s so important that there isn’t a gap in provision, but as we get nearer the final date with no further news from Welsh Government, there’s a real fear that those seeking sanctuary in Wales will be left stranded.

“If we claim to be a Nation of Sanctuary, we must put our money where our mouth is. There shouldn’t be a limit on this particular Welcome.”

Further updates on proposals for a new scheme are expected in the summer.


Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip said: “We recognise the benefits of and ongoing need for a Welcome Ticket-type scheme to support the integration of newly arrived sanctuary seekers.

“However, while the current Welcome Ticket has been hugely welcomed and beneficial, there have been some delivery challenges which have led to some disappointing and distressing incidents. Therefore, we are reviewing the learning obtained from the scheme as we consider how an improved scheme could be launched in future.

“Our intention is to establish a new phase of the Welcome Ticket scheme in 2024 which is sustainable and fit-for-purpose, ensuring our resources can be focused on those most in need.

“I would like to thank our transport operators and staff across Wales who have worked in partnership with the Welsh Government over the last 2 years to provide a warm welcome to families and individuals during challenging times.”

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