Two protesters have blockaded the Home Office in Cardiff this morning, holding the Immigration Authority to account for its treatment of refugees in the Penally camp in West Wales.
The Home Office has a duty of care to all those who arrive in the UK seeking sanctuary. People staying in the Penally ex-military training camp, run by Clearsprings [a private company] on behalf of the Government, are experiencing:
– Lack of drinking water and hygienically prepared food;
– Failing plumbing and heating systems leading to cold and unsanitary conditions;
– Lack of access to phones and the internet, meaning they cannot communicate with family or legal support;
– Overcrowded conditions, making it impossible to comply with Covid social distancing rules:
– No provision of health or mental health services;
– inadequate provision of toilets and showers.
When the accommodation was set up last autumn, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford made the statement “A military camp is not a suitable place to house people who have fled from conflict and war in other parts of the world. Wales is a nation of sanctuary. When there are people who, through no decision of their own, arrive in Wales, then we want to make sure that they are well looked after and welcomed.” Or as a camp resident described it, “Now I’m in a camp with metal gates, and a fence all around with razor wire. I feel like an animal in a cage but we’re humans.”
We now understand that, rather than reducing numbers and eventually closing the camp, as announced by Immigration Minister Chris Philps in January, the Home Office is sending even more refugee people to this dysfunctional facility. What’s more, residents and volunteers risk prosecution under the Official Secrets Act for speaking out about the conditions.
One of the protesters, Lois Davis, explained: ‘Wales has a proud culture of welcoming guests. These people seek only the opportunity to live a normal life and contribute to our society. This is being denied to them by the Home Office, which prefers to keep them in a state of purgatory, not knowing if and when they can begin to study, work and get on with their lives. This further compounds the trauma they have been trying to escape.’
A similar camp in Kent at the Napier barracks had attracted widespread criticism, but more camps are planned. Both Penally and Napier barracks in Kent have been unnecessary experiment in human suffering. Public Health England warned the Home Office that housing people in military barracks was inappropriate, but they went ahead anyway. *5
The second protester, Jenny Roberts, demanded ‘Penally Camp must be shut down immediately, and suitable accommodation and support provided to help new migrants integrate and become active citizens. Not to do this is a failure in the statutory duty on the part of the Home Office. This concept of using ex-military camps to house refugees is a proven failure. No more camps!’
A number of voluntary groups are trying to support the refugees at Penally, including Camp Residents of Penally (CROP), BASE and Roses, Stand up to Racism, County of Sanctuary Pembrokeshire, Oasis and Croeso Teifi.