An unusual battle rages in a tourist town riven by the arrival of an asylum seeker camp

0
17


Every weekend, come rain or shine, protesters pitch up outside the gates of the controversial asylum seeker camp on the outskirts of Tenby.

It’s part of the routine in Penally these days, a village in deepest west Wales which has somehow found itself at the centre of an international issue after it became home to more than 200 male asylum seekers.

There’s almost a race between the two factions – those against and those for the camp – to claim the space outside the main gates first.

This Saturday, it’s the objectors who get there first, just after 11am. They haven’t been there for 30 minutes before a woman is arrested for obstructing a police officer.

Tensions are high as around 20 Dyfed Powys Police officers try to move the group away from the gates onto the grass some 30 metres away. They are enraged they have been forced to give up their claim to the prime spot and make their feelings heard using a megaphone and accusing the police of being “for the lefties”.

Forced to stay behind a row of fluorescent police jackets, the group can only helplessly watch the counter group make their way down the road to take up the space in front of the main gates where they were just minutes before.



Officers lined up to keep the two protest groups apart



Supporters of the men in the camp took up their place outside the main camp gates on Saturday after police moved on the ‘anti-camp’ group

It must be an intimidating scene for the men inside the camp who gather at the fence to watch events unfold. Sadly, they are used to it by now. Similar scenes have played out every weekend since the plans to turn the former Ministry of Defence facility into an asylum camp were announced.

Later on, after most of the protesters have gone home to continue with their Saturdays, I follow a silver convertible car which pulls out of Penally village and heads to Tenby. Small groups of men from the camp are walking back from Tenby along the main road and every time the car passes them, the female driver slows down, winds down the window and sticks her middle finger up at them before speeding off.

What is it about the camp that has created such tension between people living in Pembrokeshire and are there justifiable reasons for it?

Darren Edmondson is from Pembrokeshire although he won’t say exactly where and has stood outside the camp gates “most weekends”. He is keen to speak about why he feels compelled to make his stand and is refreshingly honest in his explanation.



Darren Edmondson doesn’t think the men in the camp have been ‘vetted properly’

“We are here protesting today because we were told there were going to to be up to 850 illegal immigrants or asylum seekers or whatever you want to call them here,” he said.

“There’s been a total lack of consultation from the Home Office. It’s absolutely disgusting.

“We feel they haven’t been vetted properly. We don’t know anything about their background or where they’ve come from or anything.”

The Home Office has said the camp will accommodate up to 234 asylum seekers.

The 30-year-old dad of one said he had researched other places which had received asylum seekers and claimed crime rates in those areas had gone up “massively”.

“I’m concerned for local families and our children,” he added. “The police are all for the lefties. Every time we book a protest, the lefties invade our protest. The police have told us to move, but it’s a public footpath.”

Despite his rhetoric, he denies that the group are “far right extremists” and simply trying to protect their own community.



Jackie Byrne travelled nearly 40 miles with husband Chris to make her stand

Jackie Byrne has travelled from her home just outside Newcastle Emlyn with husband Chris to make their stand too. Both are in their seventies and share the view that the men in the camp aren’t “legitimate” asylum seekers.

“We’ve come down to support these people,” Jackie said, waving at the group goading both police officers and the counter protesters behind.

“They’re in a little village and I come from a little village too. You don’t know who these people are, you don’t have a clue- they might not be who they say they are.

“They’re aged 18-35 and young girls are at risk. These guys are going to want women, they’re young blokes.”

The country is “in crisis” she says, not just because of the coronavirus pandemic but also a serious shortage of jobs. She puts the blame squarely at the feet of the UK Government: “Whether it’s Labour or Conservative it doesn’t matter. They’re all as bad as each other.

“I don’t consider myself to be right wing. If anything it’s the other way. I’m more of a socialist. I don’t believe in immigration and I don’t believe they are legitimate asylum seekers.”

She has three adult children, none of whom live in Pembrokeshire, but says they have struggled to secure long-term careers.

“If they’re [asylum seekers] given status to stay they will have to get jobs,” she added. “But there just aren’t enough.”

Her husband Chris chips in: “I don’t blame them for coming to this country but this country just can’t take them. I blame the Government for letting them in.”



There were around 55 protesters on Saturday



The men in the camp have received both abuse and kindness since arriving in Penally

Stood to the side of the main group is a man with his partner and young daughter. He says he served in Iraq 20 years ago.

The threesome are keeping themselves to themselves and haven’t turned up to make any trouble but think it’s important to show their feelings.

Asking to remain anonymous, the 55-year-old who lives in Neyland, said: “The concern is who they are, where they come from and what their agenda is.

“They aren’t from a war torn country. This country isn’t prepared for what they’re looking to bring.”

Gently prompting him to elaborate on what that might be, he says bluntly: “Social unrest.”

“They aren’t civilised in the way we are. That’s a fact. It’s got nothing to do with racism. I haven’t seen one right wing extremist since I’ve been here.”

He is clear about what should happen to the camp: “I think it should be closed down and returned to normal. It’s all about the safety of the kids and the old people.

“I have a young family, my daughter here is one of five.”



Pembroke Dock Central councillor Paul Dowson

Paul Dowson is a Pembrokeshire county councillor and has arrived on his motorbike from Pembroke Dock. The independent councillor said it was the way plans for the Penally camp were announced that has angered him the most.

The 53-year-old said: “I’m against what the Home Office did. Not so much the men inside. They are living in a poor condition, that much we are all agreed on. I don’t know why we are standing here in one big line separated by police. We should all be together.”

You can read what Dafydd Llywelyn, the Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, said about conditions inside the camp here.

Cllr Dowson is also concerned about what the camp will do to the county which relies heavily on tourism. He added: “It will kill tourism. Peoples’ opinions are peoples’ opinions and you can’t change that.”

He too wants to see the Home Office make a “massive U-turn” and shut the camp down.

One local woman who wasn’t at the protest messaged me afterwards saying the men in the camp had left her afraid and intimidated.

She said: “The local people are scared and not of the protesters but of the men walking our streets, urinating, drinking on Penally Green in groups, approaching our children and asking for contact details.

“Residents are afraid to allow their children out, I have been shouted at by a group of them, hollering ‘hey blondie’ as I walked through the village. I was afraid and felt intimidated. But it’s okay because I’m a local and I don’t matter.

“Many residents are now afraid to voice their concerns, they have been silenced by the far left and far right. The far right, by being afraid of being tarred with the same brush; the far left, by being accused of being racist.

“Nobody seems to want to hear our voices. Nobody wants to know how this makes us all feel.”



Richard Scarfe: ‘I just don’t think they should be here’

The protest is almost entirely peaceful. The initial taunts from the anti-camp group are quick to die down and people seem content to stand around in the late autumn sun.

Rumours of alleged incidents and comments made by the men in the camp are rife. One woman told me she had spoken to a couple of the men at the gates who had told her they had arrived on a potato lorry travelling between France and the UK.

“They told us they paid £3,000 to come in on a spud lorry and another snuck in on it from France,” she said.

“One told us: ‘France OK, Britain is better’.”

Her friend agreed, saying: “They arrived in brand new clothes and they’ve come through six countries to get here. I don’t have one bit of sympathy for them, they’ve come here for benefits.”

There is talk that some men from the camp have been chatting to schoolgirls from nearby Greenhill School and hanging round the local skate park.

A spokesman for Dyfed Powys Police confirmed the force had received two complaints and said: “We have received two reports of inappropriate behaviour at the skate park in Tenby and are looking to speak to the people who contacted us.

“In the meantime the skate park is now part of our patrol plans and we have linked in with local schools to reinforce the School Beat Stay SMART online messaging.”

Richard Scarfe, from Pembroke and with farmland just a few miles away, added: “I just don’t think they should be here. They’ve just been dumped here. No one has been consulted, no one.

“They’ve been in hotels, now they are here to take over.”

But on the other side of the police line, such views are quickly condemned as racist and narrow minded.



Deborah Houghland wants to show the men in the camp a friendly face

Deborah Houghland is from just outside Haverfordwest and wants to set up a collection for the men in her rural village. The 56-year-old said: “I’m here to show my support for the asylum seekers because they are just experiencing so much abuse and we want them to know that not everyone in Pembrokeshire has such narrow minds.

“It’s a support protest I suppose, if you can have such a thing, and I just want the men to know that not all of us are against them.

“All I know is that the Home Office has announced they are all legitimate asylum seekers and for me that’s good enough.”

Mrs Houghland isn’t the only one offering support. Local charities have been chaperoning the men to Tenby and have taken them for trips out as well as offering them volunteering opportunities. It’s a small token of kindness and something the local community feel like they can offer the men who have very little money and very little to distract them.

Even among the supporters however, there are parallel views with those they consider to be “far right extremists”.

“Nobody believes this is the right place for the men,” said one man who asked to remain anonymous. “And everybody has the right to peaceful protest.

“But it’s pure racist hatred and it’s not the thing we want to see in Pembrokeshire. This protest is to counter what we’re seeing on the other side of the protest.”

Naomi Chiffi lives in Penally with her three young children Ivy, Gruff and Raph. She said the ongoing protests were just getting “ridiculous”.



Naomi Chiffi, with her children Ivy, Gruff and Raph, is ‘fed up’ of the ongoing protests

“We are just hearing so many things recently with rumours about what might or might not have happened,” she said. “The most important thing in that the community feels safe and happy and these protests aren’t helping with that.

“It’s a very difficult experience for the men being kept here in an Army camp having been through whatever trauma they’ve been through.

“Frankly I’m just fed up of it. I place the blame squarely at the Home Office’s door for their abject failure to show adequate care and support for either the people in the camp or those outside of it.

“I understand that people are frustrated and feel that a presence at the camp will continue to shine a light on this, but anyone taking their frustrations out on the men themselves is absolutely wrong.

“Asking them loaded questions; filming their responses; making awful comments – this isn’t just reductive, it’s positively antagonistic. What is to be gained from this?”

Just after she speaks, police make a second arrest, this time a man for obstructing police and for a racially aggravated public order offence.



Two people were arrested on Saturday

Superintendent Anthony Evans, Divisional Commander for Pembrokeshire said: “Protests have continued at the site today (Saturday October 17), with approximately 55 protesters in attendance, with minimal disturbances. Unfortunately, yet again we had to take action against a small minority.

“We have made it clear previously that those committing criminal offences will be prosecuted, and today saw the arrest of a 58 year old woman on suspicion of Obstruction of a Police Officer, and a 30 year old man on suspicion of Obstruct Police and Racially Aggravated Section 5 Public Order.

“Both remain in police custody currently.”

So far, police haven’t arrested anyone who have attended protests supporting the men inside the camp.

By lunchtime, both groups are steadily dispersing and the men inside the camp who have gathered at the fence start clapping their supporters. Everyone joins in and for a moment, as applause spreads around the group, stood in the October sunshine, it feels like the friendliest place to be.



Source link

قالب وردپرس

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here