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Letter to MP about the use of Penally camp for men seeking asylum

9th October by email
Dear Fay,
Thanks for your email today and I will respond to that shortly. I do hope that you are safe and well.

I’ve been asked by the members of Hay, Brecon & Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees to write to you to express our concerns about the Home Office decision to use a dilapidated ex army barracks in Penally to house people seeking asylum.

We feel that Penally Barracks is not an appropriate place for anyone to be asked to live, even for a short time, let alone traumatised young men with no family support, no occupation to distract them and complete uncertainty about their future.

Here are some of our reasons:
* accommodation in Penally is in dormitories where Covid infection will be even more easily spread than we have seen in recent days in student residences in Glasgow, Newcastle and other parts of the UK
* self-isolation will be impossible
* access to sinks for hand-washing is inadequate
* there seems to be no limit to the time the asylum seekers may have to stay in Penally
* many of those transferred had been in initial accommodation in Cardiff for some months and for them the move represents a move to worse conditions with no time limit and no expectation that their cases will be resolved
* there is no local access to the Asylum rights programme or Welsh Refugee Council
* lacking WiFi and mobile phone top-ups, the asylum seekers will be cut off from contact with their families back home and from support and advice here in Wales

We are also concerned that the decision to use Penally Barracks was not shared in  a timely manner with  the local MP, the council or the Welsh Government. There was no time to inform local people, hear and allay their concerns, and enable those who wished to do so to welcome and support the new arrivals. In the event, despite some limited attempt by opponents of immigration, mostly from outside the local area, to stir up trouble, the vast majority of local people have been anxious but sympathetic. A fundraising page  to buy welcome gifts raised over £4,000 within days and the local foodbank in Haverfordwest was inundated with clothing  and other items to the extent that they had to find additional space to store and sort donations. Our local contacts tell us that provision for ESOL,food,  Health support and legal support will be available via the contracts with the housing provider but the adequacy is not yet known
HBTSR is particularly concerned because there are several barracks in our own area that are not fully occupied and could be next in line to be used in this way. If this should happen, we would, of course, want to welcome and support the asylum seekers and would try to allay any anxieties of local people. But it will be hard to do so if this temporary accommodation policy ignores the government’s own guidelines on limiting the spread of Covid-19, especially to an area such as ours which has so far been spared the worst ravages of the pandemic. And it will be difficult to counter the arguments of extreme right-wing groups that could seek to take advantage of the situation, may threaten or even resort to violence, and will create extra work for our police force.

I hope that you can pass on our concerns to the Home Secretary and let her know that many of your constituents think that this is not the way to treat either the people seeking asylum or the people of Wales. Do you agree with us that this is totally unsuitable accommodation and will you work to ensure the men are moved as quickly as possible to more suitable accommodation?
 All good wishes
From: Fay Jones MP
Date: Tue, 27 Oct 2020 at 09:18
Subject: Re: Penally barracks. (Case Ref: FJ1113)
To: <[email protected]>

Dear Alisa,

Thank you for your email.

I appreciate you expressing your concern regarding the housing of asylum seekers at Penally Barracks. It is important that whilst we deal with the continuing Coronavirus Pandemic, measures are taken to house those seeking asylum who would otherwise have limited options.

I am aware that an occupant of the Barracks told the BBC that being able to come to the UK had saved his life. I am proud that even during these unprecedented times, we are able to assist those seeking asylum.

Reports that conditions at the Barracks are unsuitable is concerning, however, I would note that this facility has been used to train and house our armed forces for many years. Nevertheless, I will raise this with the Home Office team at the next available opportunity.

With best wishes