Criticism continues to be fired at The Home Office and Welsh Secretary of State over their handling of the repurposing of Penally camp as an accommodation centre for asylum seekers and the lack of consultation with the local community.

The village’s county councillor recently updated members of Penally Community Council on matters concerning the facility, and confirmed that legal challenges had now been put to the Home Office resulting in several service users being removed from the Penally camp.

“I am appalled at the way in which this situation is being managed but due to the legal proceedings I must refrain from commenting on any specific cases,” said Clr. Preston, in his report to the community council, before aiming criticism at MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Simon Hart, who is also Wales’ secretary of state.

“In response to a request to meet with the residents of Penally, MP Simon Hart has stated in a social media post that he has been happy to talk to people from the start and that he has done so. He added that he is posting regular updates and sending direct mail,” he continued.

“However, Mr. Hart has stated that a virtual meeting may be ‘intimidating’ for some. After three months since the re-purposing of Penally camp, I do not consider it unreasonable to ask our MP to engage with the community!”

In an individual legal case that is still pending, submissions were made to a court on behalf of a 20-year-old Iraqi national who was moved to Penally barracks in September after previously having been housed in various hotels since he arrived to the UK in March 2020.

The man’s lawyers have argued that his stay at the camp posed a “real risk” to his health and that there had been “no lawful or reasonable justification for removing him from suitable accommodation to the facility”.

They told the court that conditions at the camp did not allow for social distancing nor for compliance with the six-person rule, and that there was “no indication” that residents had proper access to medical care or masks, unless provided by a charity.

The court hearing also heard claims that a detainee had recently tested positive for Covid-19 at the Penally camp and there was no indication that others who were in close contact were allowed, or required, to self-isolate, nor that anyone who might have been in contact had been tested and treated as required.

A Home Office spokesperson denied this claim last month, stating: “There are no confirmed coronavirus cases at Penally barracks. We have worked closely with Clearsprings, local public health authorities and stakeholders to ensure that the appropriate measures are in place and the site is safe and secure.

“This includes providing asylum seekers with privacy and confidentiality as would be expected by those seeking sanctuary in the UK where it would be damaging for their identities to be revealed.

“The safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live is of the utmost importance.”

Clr. Preston said that reports regarding Penally camp and the Napier Barracks in Kent painted a ‘bleak picture’ of the Immigration Services management of both sites.

He went onto say that he was due to meet with lawyers from the Public Law Project and MP Liz Savile Roberts - the Shadow Spokesperson for Home Affairs to discuss the impact the decision to repurpose the MOD camp continues to make on the small community of Penally.

“In terms of where we are with the planning application, Penally camp covers an area of more than 1 hectare, therefore the application will be classed as a ‘major’ development,” continued Clr. Preston.

“An application for major development needs to be accompanied by a pre-application consultation (PAC) report for the application to be valid. The PAC exercise that the report covers involves consultation with statutory consultees (including the Community Council) and publicity of the proposal.

“The consultation and publicity period runs for 28 days. I expect the PAC exercise to take place before Christmas. Due to the timescales involved it is unlikely that the application would come before the planning committee until at least the meeting scheduled for March 9. “The three caravans that were on site were removed on December 3,” commented Clr. Preston.

Sinead Henehan from Pembrokeshire County Council also spoke on matters relating to the Penally facility when she recently addressed the community council.

She confirmed that Penally Community Council was a statutory consultee and would be part of the pre-application process, but was unsure when the Home Office will lodge this application.

Ms Hehehan said that after the completion of the firebreak lockdown in Wales, there would be the arrival of further residents into the camp, whilst also confirming that the current service users were now moving through the asylum process.

Community council members also heard that Inspector Reuben Palin was now the dedicated Police Inspector for Penally, and would be a centre point of communication for matters appertaining to the camp and the village.

Following a response to MP Simon Hart from UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to MP Simon Hart on issues surrounding the facility, Alistair Cameron, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, has also criticised the Home Office for failing to understand that the basic living needs of the asylum seekers at Penally Camp are not being met.

“I have seen reports from the asylum seekers about the lack of adequate Covid-19 safety measures (including sleeping 6 to a room), lack of privacy (men of different cultures and backgrounds required to shower together), broken heaters, broken washing machines, inability to contact a doctor, poor quality and quantity of food, water dispensers not being routinely refilled and inadequate provision of hot drinking water,” stated Mr. Cameron.

“These are basic needs which all of us would reasonably expect. In addition, Hywel Dda University Health Board have stated their concerns about the inability to practise social distancing in the camp.

“I do not believe Penally Camp can be adapted to become a Covid-secure environment and consider the Home Secretary should authorise their immediate relocation to more appropriate accommodation.”

In response, Priti Patel said that the camp was ‘safe, habitable and fit for purpose’ in correspondence to Mr Hart.

“The UK Government has a legal and moral duty to provide support including accommodation for those who are seeking protection and who would otherwise be destitute whilst their claims are considered,” she stated.

“The current global pandemic has placed significant pressure on the asylum system and whilst we work hard to rebalance the system there remains an urgent need to find additional accommodation so we can continue to meet our obligations.

“This has led to the use of Penally Training Camp, a site that was both available at short notice and suitable to accommodate large numbers of asylum seekers on a temporary basis.

“The agreement with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is for use of the site for up to 12 months, but as soon as the site is no longer needed, it will be stood down. Asylum seekers usually move from hostel-based accommodation into dispersed or longer-term accommodation while their asylum claim is being assessed.

“As restrictions are lifted, and movement within the asylum estate recommences, we expect to see the demand for sites such as Penally reduce. In addition, to clarify that this time period is not how long we wold expect any individual to stay at the site,” continued the Home Secretary.

“I do not agree about the condition or suitability of Penally Training Camp. The accommodation, which until recently was used by the MOD is safe, habitable, fit for purpose and correctly equipped in line with existing asylum accommodation standards contractual requirements. It has also been adapted to ensure social distancing can be maintained. Asylum seekers’ basic needs are being met, including three meals per day provided by an on-site chef.

“The site is being run by Clearsprings Ready Homes, an experienced provider of asylum accommodation and wrap around services. Televisions are available at the site and wi-fi will also be provided allowing for internet access. All those we support can access 24/7 advice and guidance through a telephone service provided for the Home Office by Migrant Help.

“Individuals are encourage to raise any concerns, issues or questions regarding their accommodation, health, asylum application or Covid-19 through this medium, as interpreters are provided on all calls. There are also Clearsprings Ready Home staff on site 24/7 to deal with any issues raised by the residents and to ensure that their safeguarding requirements are met.

“Additionally, Clearsprings is taking action where appropriate to augment what was in place, taking account of feedback from service users and others, and have also been working with local faith leaders to provide further support an provision to meet religious needs.

“We have committed to, and are, working closely with relevant public health bodies so that, as with all of the accommodation and support that is provided across the UK, we are taking steps to ensure both compliance with regulations that are in place and that our providers, as they are required to do, take all necessary steps to ensure adherence to guidelines and to maintain Covid-19 security.

“We have agreed plans for appropriate health care provision, and everyone will be provided with the necessary information and guidance to be Covid-19 aware and will have the same access to Covid-9 testing as the general population. Occupancy in dormitories is limited to ensure a minimum distance between beds of at least 2 metres.

“This is complemented by a range of additional safety measures including increased cleaning of surfaces, availability of hand sanitisers, a track and trace system and communications with asylum seekers on site about compliance with Covid-19 control measures,” she added.

The Ministry of Defence has also confirmed that all firing activity at Penally Gallery has ceased for 12 months in agreement with a Home Office request, due to the range’s close proximity to the Penally Camp.

“The Home Office has raised their concern that, given some of the intended occupants of the camp will have fled war zones, housing them within earshot of a range would be potentially traumatic for those individuals,” said an MOD spokesperson.

“The range could still be used if there is an urgent operational requirement. A new firing notice will be published before any firing takes place on the range.

“There will be no firing at Penally Gallery Ranges until November 2021.”