Over 200 asylum seekers are to be temporarily housed in an old military base in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Several people have already arrived. The United Kingdom’s Home Office chose the site due to a lack of capacity in England’s facilities. However, there is concern that the Penally Army center is inadequate to accommodate refugees. The situation has attracted far-right protesters, some of whom attempted to barricade the base’s entrance. In contrast, anti-racism groups such as ‘Stand Up to Racism West Wales,’ have also been present to challenge anti-asylum views and welcome refugees.
Housing refugees in a military base is deeply insensitive. It can be distressing to those who have recently lived through the horrors of war. In a letter to the U.K.’s Home Office, a group of politicians, health officials, and religious leaders expressed their concern for the lack of community consultation. The letter stated that “proper consultation would have immediately made it clear that Penally Camp is unsuitable accommodation, particularly for men who may have experienced trauma, great hardship, and have been separated from their families. The buildings are in a poor condition, in a rural location with one village shop and no established support network.”
The Coronavirus pandemic means facilities need to adhere to certain social distancing and safety requirements. Paired with an increase in people seeking asylum, this has caused considerable strain on resources. Due to limited capacity in more traditional facilities, the Ministry of Defence has allowed the Home Office to utilize two of its properties for one year. A spokesperson for the Home Office has said that “nobody staying at these sites is being detained. Asylum seekers are able to come and go from the accommodation and are staying in safe, COVID-compliant conditions, in line with the law and social distancing requirements.”
Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, has said the camp has “become a target for hard-right extremist groups”. Anti-asylum demonstrations outside the camp have even resulted in a handful of arrests. Superintendent Anthony Evans, Divisional Commander for Pembrokeshire said in a statement regarding one such protest: “we understand that tensions are running high in the community, but last night’s scenes endangered everyone and caused understandable alarm.” He went on to say that the Police are “working with partners across the county and the Home Office to get the support residents are asking for.”
Extremist culture has created an unsafe environment for those living at the facility. WalesOnline reported several instances of harassment towards residents of the camp. Residents are said to be encouraged to adhere to a 10 pm curfew. If someone has not returned by then, they are contacted to ensure they are safe.
As far-right and abusive demonstrations persist, they become more entrenched in society. This behavior must be never perceived as ‘normal.’ Promotional campaigns detailing the need to lend a helping hand to those in need may also go along with in shaping public perception. The U.K. has some work to do to flush out extremist behavior if it wants its asylum seekers to feel safe and welcome.
In a statement, the Welsh Government has said, “We believe people fleeing war and conflict deserve the best possible start in a new country. We must do better.”
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