THE use of Penally MOD camp to support asylum seekers is a temporary measure a Home Office representative has said.
A community engagement meeting regarding Penally camp was hosted by Pembrokeshire County Council on Wednesday (October 7) chaired by leader Cllr David Simpson who made clear that the authority played no part in the decision to use the site.
Director of borders, immigration and citizenship system at the Home Office Deborah Chittenden said she personally apologised for the lack of initial engagement, which was due to the urgent need of the situation due to a “blockage of the system” caused by Covid-19 lockdown.
“It’s not where I would want to be, this was a necessity, we moved incredible fast,” she added.
Ms Chittenden added: “From a Home Office perspective it’s important to state that we have a legal obligation to support destitute asylum seekers.”
There had been significant pressure from the pandemic leading to a shortage of available accommodation, as people were not moved out of their initial placements during lockdown but those seeking asylum continued to arrive in the UK, the meeting was told.
Penally and Napier MOD sites were put forward as “immediately available” settings and because of “the speed in which we had to act” it had not been possible to carry out the usual engagement process, said Ms Chittenden.
She assured the meeting, including local member Cllr Jonathan Preston, that it was a temporary agreement with the MOD for up to 12 months, and once the lockdown backlog was dealt with the site would not be needed.
“This is intended, and very much will be, a temporary arrangement,” she said, adding: “These asylum seekers are ordinary people, usually often well educated, highly skilled people who are seeking protection. Many risked their lives to get here, they are not criminals and are not being detained.”
All residents will have completed 14 days isolation before arriving to reduce Covid-19 risks and work with site manager Clear Springs and health officials had been done to ensure social distancing and hygiene measures are met.
There is also 24 hour security at the site and Dyfed-Powys Police has increased patrols to reassure residents.
Superintendent Anthony Evans said the impact of the camp’s use and subsequent protests had been “huge” and genuine concerns had been raised by the community but “sadly there’s been individuals with far right or left views that have sought to scaremonger among the local community as well.”
He added that some arrests had been made relating to incidents at the camp and social media with concern about the presence of protesters “greater” than of the asylum seekers.
Juliet Halstead of Migrant Help, a charity supporting the residents, who the meeting heard were screened to ensure they did not have health issues that would not be suited to the camp, said they had been “absolutely inundated” with offers of support.
Volunteers have also come forward with a bid to provide “meaningful activities” a focus in order to support well being and mental health, anyone with offers of support can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions to the meeting were organised by theme and answers will be published on the council’s website.
Local member Cllr Jonathan Preston said although all questions were not answered it “has given people more of an understanding of where we are” adding the Penally community had felt overlooked.
South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart added that questions remained about why the camp was chosen as well as around funding and who was responsible for costs “over and about the normal run of play.”
Those also included in the discussion were police and crime commissioner Dafydd Llewelyn Clear Springs Ready Homes Ltd managing director Steve Lakey, Dr Phil Kloer of Hywel Dda Health Board and council chief executive Ian Westley.