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News Update – Penally Camp Closure (17 March 2021)

Date: 17/03/2021
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, News Update – Penally Camp Closure

Duncan Lewis Solicitors welcomes the news that the Penally Camp used to hold asylum seekers from September 2020 is set to close on 21 March 2021. We issued proceedings on behalf of six Claimants challenging the Home Office’s use of the Camp to house and hold asylum seekers in November 2020. We are pleased to learn that the Home Office has committed to relocating all residents to alternative accommodation. Many highly vulnerable individuals have suffered greatly as a direct result of the prison-like Camp environment and we hope that important lessons have been learnt.

The Home Office repeatedly stated that the Camp was never intended to accommodate individuals with serious vulnerabilities. Despite this, to-date, Duncan Lewis have secured the transfer of 51 highly vulnerable clients out of the Camp, many of whom were survivors of torture, trauma and/or trafficking.

The Claimants advanced a number of Grounds in the proceedings, arguing that the Home Office’s decision to accommodate asylum seekers at the Camp was unlawful, in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and human rights protections including the right to liberty.

In first making the decision to use the Camp as accommodation for asylum seekers, the Home Office failed to make any formal inquiry or prior consultation with the key regional public authorities in Wales and relevant public bodies such as the Welsh Assembly, Pembrokeshire County Council, Dyfed and Powys Police or the Hywel Dda University Health Board.

A number of our clients were transferred to the Camp in the middle of the night, under what they considered to be compulsion and without any notice or proper explanation or time to object. On arrival, residents were confined within the Camp by barbed wire fences with locked gates manned by uniformed guards who clocked them in and out. Many residents were informed of a strict curfew and told they would face consequences if they did not comply. The presence of far-right protestors at the Camp gates resulted in widespread fear; a number of our clients were subject to racist incidents and hostile and intimidating conduct from protestors including the throwing of eggs, bottles and stones, verbal threats, abuse and physical violence. The Home Office decided to use this “less generous” accommodation in response to far right hostility to asylum seekers being temporarily housed in hotels during the pandemic. The Home Office was well aware that the use of this Camp to accommodate asylum seekers in a remote rural area with little experience of diversity might well generate tension but took no steps to prepare the local community. Nor did the Home Office act to intervene when the Camp and asylum seekers became the focal point for far right extremists.

There was no mechanism by which residents at the Penally Camp could themselves make an appointment to see a doctor despite a significant number suffering from serious physical and mental health conditions. Our clients report being assessed by non-clinical Camp staff and some were subsequently refused emergency medical attention.

The Home Office failed to comply with their own Covid-19 guidance, transferring men to the Camp with no testing and from Tier 2 areas in breach of their stated policy. Clients have said that mask-wearing was not enforced, social distancing was impossible and information regarding Covid-19 measures was not made readily available. The nearest hospital to the Camp has only seven ICU beds available meaning any outbreak of Covid-19 owing to the lack of appropriate safeguarding measures would have rapidly overwhelmed the local hospital capacity and put lives at risk.

The Claimant’s Grounds in this case were supported by statements made by the Welsh Government and British Red Cross who both repeatedly called for the immediate closure of the Camp some weeks ago. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found that the site is ‘impoverished’ and unsuitable for long-term accommodation.

Separate to the ongoing judicial review proceedings, on 8 March 2021, we sent a pre-action letter to the Home Office on behalf of one of our clients, challenging the intention to use the Camp beyond 21 March 2021. The Home Office’s position was that the Camp would continue to operate after six months under the emergency planning regulations and a planning application would be made in mid-April. This was despite the opposition of the local authority, whose consent would have been required to use the site after this date.

It is deeply regrettable that the Home Office ignored repeated warnings about the detrimental impact of the Camp environment on the health and wellbeing of its residents. It should not have taken 6 months for the Home Office to take the necessary action to close the Camp and many vulnerable individuals have suffered significant damage as a result. We await the outcome of this judicial review but several of our clients are considering further civil action.

Tom Nunn, Sophie Lucas and Lottie Hume of the Public Law team headed by Toufique Hossain instructed Stephanie Harrison QC, Raza Halim and Connor Johnston of Garden Court Chambers in the judicial reviews. Alex Goodman and Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers were instructed in the Planning matter.

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