Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip
On 18 November, the Senedd debated and agreed a motion that the Home Office’s decision to accommodate asylum seekers at the Penally army camp should be reconsidered because it is an unsuitable place without access to appropriate support networks. I wrote to the Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, Chris Philp MP, on 25 November to alert him to our debate and repeat our call for the UK Government to close the Penally camp and move asylum seekers to alternative accommodation which can properly cater for their needs, respect their dignity, and help them to progress their asylum applications.
I had the opportunity to discuss this matter with the UK Government Minister on 1 December but he did not accept my view that the use of the camp for this purpose is inhumane.
Nevertheless, I continue to raise significant concerns about the safety and appropriateness of the camp as asylum accommodation. We have seen footage, photographs and safety reports from within the camp which support our concerns. We believe the Penally site has inherent risks due to the operational model being implemented.
I welcome the camp inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI). The First Minister wrote to the ICIBI on 19 January to call for an urgent inspection and I am pleased to say that the inspection has now started. We warmly welcome the decision to undertake this inspection to provide much-needed confidence in the standards in place in the camp. If Members have evidence which they would like to contribute to the ICIBI’s inspection, they can do so here:
The priority is clearly to ensure those in the camp and the surrounding community are kept safe, treated with dignity and community cohesion can be repaired following this disruptive decision.
The decision to use the Penally camp has undermined our ability to implement an effective migrant integration policy, as set out in our Nation of Sanctuary plan. Responsibility for the asylum system is reserved to the UK Government but the Welsh Government is responsible for integration, community cohesion, local government and the health system – all areas which have been impacted negatively by the Penally site implementation. We need a full exploration of how the asylum system should operate in a devolved context and, for that reason, Welsh Ministers intend to act as an Interested Party in any Judicial Review cases which arise from occupants of the Penally camp.
The Home Office is utilising emergency planning powers to operate the Penally camp as asylum accommodation until 20 March 2021. Beyond this point, local planning consent will need to be granted to enable continued authorised use of the site. We are continuing to urge the Home Office to provide a plan for how those accommodated in the camp will be moved to alternative accommodation if planning consent is not granted.
Although the provision of asylum accommodation is the responsibility of the UK Government we are working closely with Welsh local authorities to widen the asylum dispersal system to new areas. Conversations with local government will continue throughout February in the hope that new opportunities for asylum dispersal can be found.
Successfully enrolling additional local authorities in the asylum system will take time. Decisions like the use of Penally as asylum accommodation will only make local authorities more reluctant to participate in the asylum system. We will need the Home Office to be far more flexible in their approach to ensure local authority concerns around safeguarding, data sharing, partnership working and funding can be adequately addressed. Nevertheless, we are committed to providing support to this endeavour. We recognise that 10,000 asylum seekers in temporary accommodation is not sustainable and urgently needs to be addressed by the UK and we want to play our part in addressing this. However, we do not accept that Penally is a necessary provision until additional dispersal accommodation is identified – it is unsafe and must close urgently.