News in brief: Inquiry launched into use of Penally camp to house asylum seekers
The Home Office is facing an inquiry into the use of the Penally military barracks in Pembrokeshire and other similar sites across the UK, to accommodate asylum seekers.
MPs and peers from the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on immigration detention at Westminster agreed to proceed with the inquiry at a private meeting last month and will publish its initial findings later in the summer.
Alison Thewliss MP, the chair of the group told the Guardian: “The recent report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) on this type of contingency accommodation underlined serious deficiencies in provision. Indeed, the group has written on a number of occasions to ministers regarding concerns such as ineffective safeguarding, unsanitary conditions, inadequate social distancing, and many other issues besides.
“Responses – when they have arrived – have fallen way short and failed to provide any sort of reassurance.”
The Penally Training Camp returned to Ministry of Defence control last month after being used as accommodation for up to 250 asylum seekers since September.
The damming ICIBI report, published earlier in March, highlighted the deteriorating mental health of residents as well as a lack of Covid protection and fire safety and described the camp as “filthy” and “impoverished”.
The Welsh Government revealed in October that neither they or Pembrokeshire Council were consulted by the Home Office or Ministry of Defence about proposals to use the centre to house asylum seekers and First Minister Mark Drakeford accused the Home Office of failing to address “serious issues” regarding living conditions at the camp.
Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, the Conservative MP for Carmarthen East and South Pembrokeshire, also confirmed he hadn’t been consulted about the Home Office’s plans for the site and only found out when he saw a Facebook post by Pembrokeshire council.
Penally and the Napier barracks in Kent were both run on behalf of the UK government by Clearsprings, a private firm.
The ICIBI report was also highly critical of the conditions at the Napier site but despite the camp being cleared following a Covid outbreak earlier this months the government confirmed it would continue to use the facility to house asylum seekers at least until next September. Up to 50 people have been placed in the camp near Folkestone in the last week.
No new Covid deaths reported in Wales
Today’s figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed no further deaths due to Covid-19 and 62 new cases of the virus.
Cardiff recorded 12 new cases in the last 24 hours and is the only council area with a double-digit increase in the country.
Swansea reported eight new positive tests for the virus and has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 32.4 per 100,000 people, up from 31.6 in Tuesday’s report. It also has the highest positive test proportion of 3.6% from every 100,000 tests.
Cardiff has the next highest case rate at 31.3 with a test rate of 3.4%.
Six of 22 local authorities recorded no new cases in the last 24 hours. Only one person has tested positive for the virus in Monmouthshire in the last week and the case rate of 1.1 is the lowest in Wales.
The national case rate has increased from 17.4 to 17.6 since yesterday’s report and the test rate has fallen from 2% to 1.9%.
Since the start of the vaccine rollout on 8 December, 1,621,282 people have received a first covid jab and 549,193 have had both doses.
Port Talbot Imam urges members of the Muslim community to get a Covid jab
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
The Imam of Port Talbot Mosque is encouraging people to get vaccinated after receiving his first dose of the Covid-19 jab.
Imam Ashraf was given the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine at Fairfield Surgery, Port Talbot, in February and hopes to encourage other members of the local Muslim community to follow suit.
He said there are “far more” benefits to the vaccine than “damages”.
“We don’t want to lose more of our loved ones,” he added. “We have lost many of them. It’s better to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
There has been a lower uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities in Neath Port Talbot and Swansea, according to Public Health Wales.
In response to this, representatives of local BAME communities started a campaign to dispel fear, disprove myths and encourage people to get vaccinated.
Medical professionals, faith and community leaders, and other local people launched the Tell Me More Campaign in March and have been sharing information from trusted sources about Covid-19 vaccines.
“I would recommend everyone getting it done when offered,” said Imam Ashraf, “due to the fact that last Ramadan we couldn’t pray together in the mosques as they were closed”.
Despite some restrictions easing, Muslims are celebrating their second Ramadan in a row without being allowed to meet indoors to break their fast together.
The holy month, which began this week, is marked by fasting, communal worship and meals.
Mosques had to remain closed during Ramadan in 2019 as it collided with the first lockdown, which meant community leaders had to hold virtual celebrations.
Although mosques are open this year, people still cannot go into each other’s homes for iftars – the ritual meal after sundown that marks the breaking of the daily fast.
Imam Ashraf said: “Due to the vaccine drive we are lucky enough that the government eased the restrictions so people could actually come and pray in the mosque.
“The misconceptions people had previously about halal and haram I think have all gone. I can see many people around the community having the vaccine.
“I think the only concern people have is about the side effects but honestly, I had Astra Zeneca myself and it’s been OK.
“When I had it I was advised to have paracetamol after two to four hours and besides swelling in my arm, there was nothing major.”
The Imam said he would urge people to seek advice from medical professionals and local leaders about getting vaccinated. He also said people who do not want to have the vaccine should not try to discourage those who want it from getting it done.
He added many people have come to him for advice surrounding mental health issues during the pandemic as a result of restrictions and getting vaccinated will enable normal life to slowly resume again.
“Many scholars have said the vaccine doesn’t break the fast due to the vaccine needle not going in the stomach – it goes through the muscle.
“With people on the front line getting the vaccine, who have more knowledge about it than us, they are setting an example. Why not have it?”
The British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) has confirmed none of the currently available Covid-19 vaccines contain pork or other animal ingredients.
They also revealed Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine contains less ethanol (alcohol) than what is usually found in bread or natural foods.
Their website states: “Many scholars have deemed the Oxford AZ Vaccine to be permissible as the amount of ethanol is negligible.
“The religious permissibility of any product is for scholars to decide, so please refer to those you trust.”
Dr Amer Hamed, BIMA founding member and supporter of the Tell Me More Campaign, said he has been vaccinated and “there are no major side effects”.
Dr Hamed, who lives in Swansea, and works as a cardiology consultant for Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, added: “When there are side effects these are minor such as a high temperature and go away after a few days. The only way we can protect ourselves, our loved ones and the community at large from this deadly virus is to take the vaccine.
“Please do not listen to the misleading information that is circulating on social media. Take your information from reliable sources such as health authorities.”
More than 176,000 people now have been vaccinated in the Swansea Bay health board area and a vaccine reserve list for people as young as 18 is now available.
More than half of the population of Wales have received a first vaccine dose and the number of deaths from Covid-19 is continuing to fall.