First Minister Mark Drakeford has said that the Home Office’s failure to act to improve conditions at the Penally asylum seekers camp is ‘not acceptable’.
He said that he had called on the Home Office to close the site and that the Welsh Government would intervene to “maximise the welfare of all affected”.
The Welsh Government said last week that neither they or Pembrokeshire Council were consulted by the Home Office or Ministry of Defence about proposals to use the centre in Pembrokeshire to house 250 asylum seekers for up to 12 months from the end of last month.
Mark Drakeford said he had “grave concerns” relating to the suitability of the use of Penally military base to house asylum seekers.
“I will be clear – it is unacceptable that the Home Office has repeatedly failed to address serious issues regarding living conditions at Penally military camp,” he said.
“The Welsh Government and local service providers have continually informed the Home Office of grave deficiencies in the standard of accommodation for asylum seekers. Home Office has so far failed to act in any meaningful way.
“The welfare and safety of asylum seekers on site must not be compromised, and the wellbeing of the local community must be treated as priority by the Home Office.
“I have explained our concerns on multiple occasions, and called on the Home Office to close the site. Their failure to act is not acceptable. The use of the camp must end as quickly as possible. Home Office has a duty to intervene, and must not ignore the legitimate concerns which are being raised by every party involved.
“Until the Home Office takes action, we will continue to work closely with local partners to minimise risks and maximise the welfare of all affected. Wales is a Nation of Sanctuary. We take that seriously, and so should the Home Office.”
The First Minister’s intervention comes a week after Deputy Minister and Chief Whip Jane Hutt criticised the decision by the Home Office to use the Penally military camp as a centre to house asylum seekers.
In a written statement the minister called for the use of the camp to end as quickly as possible and said the government “has repeatedly expressed significant concerns about the suitability of the camp at Penally being used to accommodate asylum seekers.”
“The camp does not meet the basic human needs of people seeking a new life in the UK. It places people in accommodation, which is neither designed nor appropriate for long-term use – mainly poorly insulated huts – and risks re-traumatising many vulnerable people who may have been fleeing abuse and torture,” she said.
“We sought a delay to the opening of the camp to ensure plans were put in place with local services to enable them to prepare for the arrival of asylum seekers, particularly to make sure Covid-19 public health measures were in place. The Home Office denied this request and, as a result, proper measures have not been put in place.
“We have made repeated reasoned approaches to the Home Office to make changes to protect the health and wellbeing of the asylum seekers relocated to Penally, while also continuing to engage with local residents.”
“We seek to prevent the most harmful outcomes, such as re-traumatisation and hate crime, while aiming for long-term solutions. We work collaboratively with partners and affected communities to ensure decisions are made constructively and transparently. Crucially we put the person at the centre of what we do – an individual’s needs are more important than their immigration status.
“The Home Office’s decision to use Penally camp does none of these things and is incompatible with the Welsh Government’s approach to inclusive and cohesive communities.
“We have yet to receive a clear rationale for the reason why the Home Office chose this site to relocate asylum seekers, nor have we been provided with a clear strategy about how the Home Office will address the lack of dispersal accommodation throughout Wales and the United Kingdom.”
A spokesman for the UK Government said: “This site was selected because it met the required needs following an assessment by the MOD of potentially suitable and available sites.”