Jane Hutt MS, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip
Equality and human rights are central to the work of the Welsh Government and our vision for Wales. We believe in fair treatment of every person, especially those who are most marginalised by social systems that prevent people from meeting their basic needs.
Now more than ever, we need to ensure that those seeking sanctuary are safe, secure and not at risk.
We can be proud of the way our nation has responded to successive refugee crises, providing a warm welcome and opportunities to integrate with our communities. However, the decision by the Home Office to use the Penally military camp as a centre to house asylum seekers is the direct opposite of the Nation of Sanctuary approach.
We believe the use of the camp should end as quickly as possible.
The Welsh 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.
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.
The Nation of Sanctuary plan is built on the Well-being of Future Generations Act. We involve asylum seekers in our plans and seek to integrate people into communities from day one of their arrival in Wales.
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.
To date, there has been no financial help from the Home Office for these public bodies to deliver services in these exceptional circumstances during a period in which they have been under unprecedented pressure.
Public bodies in the area are understandably concerned by the potential impacts of this development on a small rural community.
Despite these constraints we are grateful for the spirit of collaboration and dedication with which public bodies locally have approached this situation and to members of the community who have provided a warm and supportive welcome.
I would like to thank the police, local authorities, the NHS and the third sector, and all of our partners for their flexibility and resourcefulness over the last few months. We remain grateful for their support and expertise.
The third sector has rallied to provide support to the asylum seekers transferred to the Penally camp. Migrant Help is coordinating offers of support and has been overwhelmed with gifts and welcome messages. English language tuition providers, including the Oasis centre, are working to provide tuition, Victim Support is engaging with individuals relating to hate crime and other organisations are seeking to understand and plug gaps in services, where they are able. Faith communities have worked on an inter-faith basis to ensure adequate facilities are put in place for religious observance.
I hope we can continue to build on these relationships going forward.