Duncan Lewis represents claimants who have issued proceedings to challenge the Home Office’s use of the Penally Camp ex-military barracks (‘the Camp’) to house up to 236 men seeking asylum.
The Claimants have raised a number of grounds on which they submit that the Home Office’s decision to accommodate them at the Camp was unlawful. The Claimants challenge the legality of the use of the camp in three respects: the Home Office’s decision to use and continue to use the Camp for this purpose; the manner in which individuals were selected and transferred to the Camp and the consequences to the individuals of this transfer.
Decision to use the Camp
The Claimants argue that the decision to house asylum seekers in the Camp was an expedient decision, made as a result of the attention on the Home Office’s decision to house asylum seekers in hotels. It appears that the Home Office only informed the Welsh Government, the Hywel Dda University Health Board and other local stakeholders, days before the first asylum seekers arrived at the Camp.
The Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) was finalised on Sunday 20 September, the day before the first asylum seekers arrived at the Camp. Within the EIA, the Home Office stated that ‘[a]ny continued indefinite use or expansion of hotel facilities is probably more likely to lead to detrimental impacts on community relations and between protected groups as opposed to using other accommodation options.’
Since the decision has been made public, the Welsh Government and the Health Board amongst others, have raised major concerns about the use of the Camp to accommodate asylum seekers – highlighting the impact that this will have on local infrastructure and the inappropriate nature of housing such a large number of asylum seekers in such a rural location. The Dyfed and Powys Police and Crime Commissioner has also raised concerns about the increased far-right activity around the Camp as a result. Local residents have outlined the impact that the decision to use the Camp has had on their local community, in particular with regards to community cohesion.
Transfer to the Camp
The Home Office has argued that the Camp is suitable for single, male adults with no known vulnerabilities. The Claimants submit that the screening process is inadequate to assess whether those transferred to the Camp have vulnerabilities or not. This is confirmed by witness statements filed by the Claimants from the Medical Director of the Helen Bamber Foundation and the Head of Doctors at Freedom From Torture.
All six Claimants have obtained medico-legal reports that set out the mental trauma they have suffered as a result of their past experiences and that are aggravated by their accommodation at the Camp and their exposure to conditions there.
Consequences of Transfer
The Claimants also argue that their accommodation in the Camp was a false imprisonment and a breach of Article 5 ECHR. The Camp is surrounded by barbed wire fences with locked gates, manned by guards, with an effective curfew between 10pm and 10am. On a number of occasions, the Claimants were advised not to leave the camp outside of those hours as it would be dangerous to do so owing to the presence of far-right protesters directly outside the camp. Some of those hostile elements that remain directly outside the Camp have been charged with racially-aggravated public order offences and the Claimants have reported being subject to physical abuse, threats of violence, intimidation and harassment.
The Claimants were also not given any financial support (although those still in the Camp were provided with payments recently), with the camp often running out of soap, hand-sanitiser and potable water. Local voluntary organisations have stepped in to provide people with blankets and coats.
The Claimants are seeking a quashing of the decision to house asylum seekers at the Camp and a declaration that the use of the Camp for this purpose has breached the public sector equality duty, constitutes false imprisonment and a deprivation of liberty, and that the Secretary of State has failed to meet the essential living needs of those at the Camp.
The legal team has now had 12 individuals transferred out of the camp after raising concerns in their individual cases. This does not make their challenges academic for various reasons that will be addressed by the court.
The Claimants are represented by Toufique Hossain, Tom Nunn, Lottie Hume and Sophie Lucas of Duncan Lewis’ public law team. Counsel are Stephanie Harrison QC, Raza Halim and Connor Johnston of Garden Court Chambers.