More than 350 Afghan people have been settled in Wales since last August, the Welsh Government has confirmed.

The figure was confirmed by Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, in response to a question during the Senedd’s Plenary session this afternoon.

“Anyone who is resettled or dispersed to Wales will be supported as far as we’re able, as a Nation of Sanctuary issue,” the minister said.

“As a result of our partnership with local government, the Team Wales multi-agency approach, and indeed, with our armed services as well – the Urdd [also] being a key partner – we’ve supported over 350 Afghan individuals since August, since the evacuation.”

Hutt went on to criticise the UK government’s handling of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), as well as its Nationality and Borders Bill.

The National Wales: Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

“I’ve raised issues with gaps in eligibility, to the slow pace of development” she said, confirming that she had spoken with Victoria Atkins, the UK minister responsible for the ACRS, yesterday.

She said that concerns had also been raised with the minister over access to Biometric Residency Permits – digital passes which record an immigrant’s right to live, work and access public services in the UK – as well as employment for resettled Afghans.

“There’s a fundamental inconsistency at the heart of the Nationality and Borders Bill,” Hutt added.

“An Afghan brought to the UK under a resettlement scheme will be well-supported – but the same Afghan citizen could be criminalised and left unsupported [if they arrived in the UK by other means].

“I hope we can work on a cross-party basis to address some of these concerns.”

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The UK Nationality and Borders Bill, which has been called “cruel, punitive, and inhumane” by the Welsh Refugee Council, is currently making its way through the House of Lords.

It proposes significant changes to Britain’s asylum system, intending to treat refugees differently depending on how they arrive in the UK.

Refugees who arrive by an “irregular route” – through, for example, a channel boat crossing, may have their asylum claims ruled inadmissible and be deported.

It would also introduce harsh penalties for aiding in “irregular entry” to the UK, penalties which human rights groups fear will be used against refugees themselves.

The Welsh Government launched an attempt to block part of the Bill in December, branding it "extreme".

Immigration is a reserved matter, meaning that the Welsh Government has limited powers over policy.

The National Wales: Former Afghan interpreters protest outside the Home Office in August last year (Picture: PA Wire)Former Afghan interpreters protest outside the Home Office in August last year (Picture: PA Wire)

First announced after the Taliban’s retaking of Kabul last August, which saw desperate Afghans clinging to the underside of departing planes, the Home Office’s ACRS is designed to resettle up to 20,000 Afghan nationals – a number that was criticised as inadequate even by the government’s own backbench MPs at the time.

The scheme priorities those who assisted in the UK’s occupation of the country, as well as at-risk women, girls, and members of minority groups.

The ACRS was officially opened only last week – around five months after its announcement – with just one family granted indefinite leave to remain. Westminster says it aims to resettle “more than 5,000 people” in its first year.

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Last month the Refugee Council warned that the lack of safe, official routes for resettlement had forced thousands of vulnerable people to undertake dangerous journeys to the UK themselves.

A Bridgend councillor attempting to help resettle stranded Afghan interpreters last year described the situation as “distressing”.

She told PA at the time: “(I get) frequent calls from interpreters to let me know that they are struggling financially, to feed their children, or they’re struggling because a member of the family has been taken by Taliban.

“You’ve got men hiding in their houses being hunted. And they’re not getting regular communication from the (UK) government.”

Meanwhile ongoing US economic sanctions imposed since the Taliban seized control, as well as a harsh winter and severe drought, has triggered an escalating humanitarian crisis in the country.

As well as withdrawing aid funding to the country, the American government has frozen more than $9billion of its overseas central bank reserves, decimating Afghanistan’s economy.

The World Health Organisation estimates that around 1m Afghan children are at risk of dying of starvation this winter, while the UN’s World Food Programme estimates that at least a quarter of the population are close to famine levels of food insecurity.

Yesterday the UN launched an appeal for $4billion in aid to tackle the growing crisis.

“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms,” UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths commented yesterday.

“My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan.”

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