Wales’ secretary of state has been urged to engage with local residents over matters concerning the repurposing of Penally’s military camp by the Home Office to accommodate asylum seekers, at a virtual community engagement meeting this week.

A virtual community engagement meeting is due to be held online this Wednesday (October 7) at 12 noon, to answer residents’ questions regarding the use of the Penally base as an initial assessment facility for asylum seekers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is organising the online event to be streamed live, with the Home Office and other agencies invited to attend.

With PCC leader Clr. David Simpson urging key partner representatives to participate and address any issues raised, Penally’s county councillor is also calling for local MP Simon Hart (Welsh secretary of state) to take part in the discussions.

In correspondence sent to Mr. Hart, Clr. Preston stated: “It remains unclear what contingency powers the Home Secretary has used to by-pass all national and local government policies and procedures to commandeer Penally training camp to accommodate asylum seekers.

“In your role as Secretary of State for Wales I understand one of your primary duties is to ensure that the interests of Wales are fully taken into account by the UK Government in making decisions which will have effect in Wales.

“I am not aware of any consultation to ensure that the people of Penally, had their interests taken into account prior to the change of use at Penally camp. How can you ensure the best interests of a nation when you have been excluded from a major decision affecting a small village?

“I hope you will be able to attend the community engagement panel to answer these and other questions on Wednesday, October 7. In the meantime, may I draw your attention to recommendation 8 of the Windrush ‘lessons learned’ review published in March of this year which states: ‘The Home Office should take steps to understand the groups and communities that its policies affect through improved engagement, social research, and by involving service users in designing its services.

‘In doing this, ministers should make clear that they expect officials to seek out a diverse range of voices and prioritise community-focused policy by engaging with communities, civil society and the public’ (Williams, 2020).”

The Windrush scandal began to surface in 2017 after it emerged that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were from the ‘Windrush’ generation, had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights. Coverage of these individuals’ stories began to break in several newspapers, and Caribbean leaders took the issue up with then-prime minister, Theresa May.

There was widespread shock and outrage at the fact that so many Black Britons had had their lives devastated by Britain’s deeply flawed and discriminatory immigration system.

Clr. Preston went onto state: “Living in Penally I am intensely aware of the significant distress this has already caused vulnerable adults in government care and to those in the communities directly impacted by this autocratic directive.

“I trust you would agree that, in this case the Home Office has not adhered to this recommendation of the Windrush inquiry and has made an irrational judgment which warrants an immediate review.”

Meanwhile, Clr. Preston has submitted the following questions for Wednesday’s virtual community engagement meeting panel:

• Given that it is a role to promote the best interests of Wales why did the Home Office exclude the secretary of state from contributing to the planning stages of the change of use at Penally training camp?

• What contingency powers has the Home Secretary used to by-pass all national and local government policies and procedures to commandeer Penally training camp to accommodate asylum seekers ?

• Does the Home Office intend to submit a retrospective planning application for the change of use at Penally training camp?

• How will the Home Office proceed if a change of use planning application is brought before the local authority planning committee and is subsequently refused?

• When will the report from the Home Office scoping exercise to ‘assess community impact’ be made public ?

• How will the Home Office support the additional costs incurred by Pembrokeshire taxpayers to support public services, the Police operation and the healthcare provisions associated with the asylum facility?

• What process has been employed to ensure the safe guarding of vulnerable adults who have been given (as reported) 24 hours notice removed from established support networks in the UK and placed into a militarised setting hundreds of miles from their familiar surroundings and with little or no explanation?

• Will the Home Office give assurance to the people of Penally and Pembrokeshire that the camp will be returned to the MoD within the stipulated 12 month period?

In an update given before the weekend, MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire Mr. Hart said that he is still awaiting answers on a number of additional important points from the Home Office, but moved to clarify some questions that have been put to him on the matter at Penally camp.

“It is quite clear that whatever views people hold on this difficult subject no one, including the asylum seekers, believes the current situation to be satisfactory,” stated Mr. Hart.

“The decision by the Home Office not to provide interested parties with clearer information at the start has added to an already difficult situation – a fact that they readily acknowledge.

“As we also know the Home Office does hold extensive powers when it comes to asylum seekers but it cannot override Covid regulations or our legal obligations as far as human rights are concerned.

“As a country we have established an international reputation, not as a “soft touch” as some would claim, but for following international norms in a humane and compassionate way. I know that our county, and especially the service personnel from whom this camp has been temporarily loaned, take this responsibility very seriously.

“The Home Office remain adamant, at least for now, that even with a longer period of local consultation the decision to use Penally would have remained. However it accepts that the manner in which this was dealt with has made some of the uglier scenes more inevitable,” he continued.

In information provided by the Home Office, Mr. Hart states that occupants of the camp which currently stands at approximately 82 (which could increase to a maximum of 234) are not in receipt of asylum support (which is £37 per week) as all their needs (food/accommodation etc) are being met on site.

Occupants have to sign in and out of the camp and are asked to return to site by 10 pm. If they are not back by then, they are contacted via mobile phone for what the Home Office describe as “a safeguarding check, and reminded of the expectation that they spend the night on site.”

The Home Office has confirmed that there are no female asylum seekers but there are female support workers and staff on site.

“I have asked repeatedly about the reimbursement of costs to Dyfed-Powys Police (DPP) and Hywel Dda Health Board (HDHB) and will publish a reply once received,” continued Mr. Hart.

“The Home Office has committed to paying full business rates for the site during its time there. I have asked Pembrokeshire County Council if they have made a bid for funding and to set out what costs they might incur over and above anything that might be covered by business rates on the site,” he added.

Anybody who would like to direct their comments to the Home Office directly can do so by emailing: [email protected]

Questions for the virtual community engagement meeting must be submitted via email to: [email protected] before 12 noon on Tuesday, October 6.

Themes raised by residents will then be discussed by the panel as opposed to each question being asked individually.

Enquiries may be rejected if they are considered to be defamatory, frivolous or offensive.

Members of the public will be able to watch the meeting by visiting: