What's happening in Penally? The Welsh village united in frustration over plans to house hundreds of asylum seekers

To describe the past few weeks in Penally as ‘chaotic’ would be an understatement.

Rumours that the village’s military training base would be used to house hundreds of asylum seekers surfaced earlier this month.

Ever since there’s been heated, often nasty, debate and protest, both online and in real life. 

The boundary of the camp borders nearby houses Credit: ITV Wales

On Monday tensions reached fever pitch as protestors clashed with police outside the camp, attempting to block the entrance to arrivals - scenes that are completely at odds with this ordinarily peaceful village, on the outskirts of Tenby. 

So what’s gone wrong?

Many locals, whichever side of the political agenda they sit on, are in agreement that a lack of consultation by the Home Office has fuelled fear and uncertainty.

Naomi Chiffi lives in the village, and says people there have “legitimate concerns.”

Naomi lives in the village and says people "are frustrated" Credit: ITV Wales

234 men, the majority from Iran and Iraq, were due to arrive at the training camp this week.

Currently though there are thought to be only a handful on site, as their arrival has been delayed.

The Home Office said the camp had been provided to them by the Ministry of Defence as contingency accommodation for asylum seekers while their claims are being processed.

Concerns have been raised over the suitability of the site to house people, with some describing the facility as "dilapidated" Credit: ITV Wales

A spokesperson said an increase in Channel crossings, coupled with the need to adhere to Coronavirus guidelines has led to less accommodation space being available. 

They added that the Home Office is continuing to have “daily conversations” with stakeholders to address concerns in the local community. 

But on Thursday the local Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn called on the Home Secretary to halt any further movement of asylum seekers, until further considerations can be made.

In a letter to Priti Patel, Mr Llywelyn raised concerns over the suitability of the site and lack of local infrastructure. 

Perhaps the most concerning thing of all for residents in Pembrokeshire has been the behaviour of protestors.

There have been peaceful protests, police say, with minimal disruption, but the scenes at Penally on Monday night have been described as “endangering everyone”.

One man was arrested on suspicion of public order offences during that protest. He’s since been released on police bail with the condition that he does not enter Pembrokeshire.

Locals have accused far-right groups of using the issue to fuel their own agenda Credit: The Pembrokeshire Herald

This week First Minister Mark Drakeford said those arriving at the camp had become a target for “hard-right extremists” from right across the UK who “were not welcome” in Wales.

He also agreed the site was unsuitable and blamed the Home Office for its handling of the situation. 

Video from Senedd Cymru Youtube

Local resident Naomi Chiffi says now is the time for the community to come together and move forward.

One group, Stand up to Racism West Wales, has already held numerous events including one outside the camp, attaching welcome messages to the railings.

Welcome messages were attached to the gates of the camp this week by members of a local group Credit: Joshua Beynon / Facebook

One of the group's members is County Councillor for Pembroke Dock Llanion Joshua Beynon, but he’s received thousands of negative comments after posting pictures online.

Mr Beynon says he believes a community meeting could help move the situation forward.

The arrangement between the Home Office and the MOD is to last for 12 months, but local MP and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart says the site could be discontinued as accommodation sooner.

In a letter he says the handling of the situation "by the Home Office's own admission" has fallen short of expectations.

There are thought to be further protests planned this weekend.