Powys County Council arranged a tea party at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Showground today for Syrian Refugees being resettled in Wales. I thought it was a brilliant idea so decided to go along to add my support to the message welcoming these refugees to Montgomeryshire. All six families who have been resettled in Newtown were there. Really pleased that I went along. It was great to see Syrian refugees, who have suffered so much, clearly enjoying themselves in Mid Wales.
The UK response the the human catastrophe arising out of conflict in Syria has caused me some stress. Unusually for me, I feel I've been subject to quite a lot of unjustified abuse - quite serious abuse. I should go through it chronologically.
When the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad first began his murderous assault on his own people, driving millions into refugee status, I took the view (publicly) that the UK should do everything reasonable to help. I thought we should set an example by taking in 30,000 Syrian refugees. The UK response was indeed generous, in terms of humanitarian aid - I think pro-rata more than any other country. But we did not take in as many as I hoped we would. I thought we could have set a good example. I have always believed the utterly shocking conditions facing displaced people (maybe 10 million of them) demanded a total focus by the UK on doing all we could to help. I was impressed and influenced by the work of Conservative, Andrew Mitchell and Labour's Clare Short is increasing knowledge of the reality to MPs at Westminster.
But despite being committed to helping refugees, I have received much criticism (and worse) from those who felt we should divert UK attention and resource to bringing into the UK, children from refugee centres in France. I fully accept that there was a humanitarian case to bring in Sangatte children, but it was not nearly as desperate as those trapped in refugee camps and besieged towns in Syria and on the Syrian borders, where innocents were being gassed, starved to death, raped and murdered. France is a modern civilised county, perfectly capable of dealing with the issue, and in any case, the French Govt did not want the UK to add to the 'pull' factor bringing refugees to France in the first place.
The refugee problem has not gone away. Over last two/three years the most catastrophic refugee movements have been from North Africa, through Libya. But what we are reading now is that the flow of refugees from Libya, many just sailing out in unseaworthy boats to their deaths, has been reduced. We are now told refugees are starting to cross from N Africa to Spain.
Back to today. We have a responsibility to help the refugees we have allowed in legally to settle in, and integrate into our society. That's what was happening in Builth Wells today. Congratulations to Powys County Council for taking the responsibility seriously.