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Free bus travel for refugees scheme scrapped

Marius Ambara Kamna
Marius Ambara Kamna said the free bus ticket scheme helped him when he first arrived in Wales from Sierra Leone [BBC]

Refugees will no longer be able to use free public transport after the scheme was scrapped by the Welsh government.

Welcome Ticket was launched in March 2022 and has been seen as a helpful tool for those fleeing from countries including Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.

This scheme ends on 31 March, with the Welsh government saying it intended to introduce a replacement in future.

Marius Ambara Kamna , 32, who fled to Wales from Sierra Leone because of his sexuality, said: "Withdrawing the scheme would be a shame. Many people cannot afford tickets to move around."

Mr Kamna said he used the ticket when he arrived in Wales with almost nothing.

"It’s very helpful for everyone. You can jump on the bus and it’s totally free.

"I use it to go to school, I use it to visit friends, sometimes I go to visit people around Wales."

Now he is worried about what it means for the future after the final day of the ticket on Sunday, adding: "We definitely need to have a scheme or a ticket like that."

Kirran Lochhead Strang, who works at Cardiff's Oasic centre, which supports refugees and asylum seekers, said scrapping the scheme would hinder those trying to integrate into society.

"I think it’s certainly a shame... People who have recently been resettled or have just gained asylum generally start from nothing.

"It’s a really good way just to help them to access services, to go to look for work and just to go about the normal day-to-day things they need to do."

Bus
The scheme allowed refugees to travel anywhere by bus for free [BBC]

In the two years since the scheme was launched, the Welsh government estimated that about a million journeys had been taken using Welcome Ticket.

It was funded by the Bus Emergency Scheme and then the Bus Transition Fund, which were introduced to help bus and rail services recover after Covid - both of which have ended.

The Welsh government said it was considering how to introduce an improved scheme in the future.

Sioned Williams, Plaid Cymru’s spokeswoman on social justice, said scrapping the service, even for a short period of time, would have detrimental effects.

"Actions do speak louder than words. If we say we’re going to be a nation of sanctuary then we have to use those tools and means that we have to be able to support that vision. This was a crucial part of that support," she said.

"These are very vulnerable people, they’re fleeing famine, persecution, war, who are trying to rebuild their lives."

The Welsh government said it was intending "to establish a new phase which is sustainable and fit-for-purpose, ensuring our resources can be focused on those most in need".

It added: "We will work closely with travel operators, local authorities, the third sector and sanctuary seekers, during the development of this new phase of the scheme.”

An update is expected in the summer.