In Response

Christopher Harries

This page published a piece by Matthew Paul commenting on the protests outside of Penally Training Camp. After reading the well-written article, it seemed apt to make some observations.

Mr Paul was right to state that the Home Office was underhand in how it went about the repurposing of the facility. How the Home Office went about the matter undoubtedly contributed to some of the opposition in the local area. 

Due to the brevity of implementation and absence of consultation, the residents of Penally and the county of Pembrokeshire have cause to feel blindsided. While the arrangement now implemented raises some legitimate concerns for the local community such as security given the camp is no detention centre. 

It is lamentable that agitators from outside of Pembrokeshire sought to exploit the situation, there is no place for intolerance and racism in our society. To sympathise with the genuine concerns of residents of Penally is not to excuse any lawbreaking or acts of intolerance that occurred in the course of the protests. Hopefully, Dyfed Powys police will look to hold those responsible for criminal acts to account for their behaviour.

In the article, Mr Paul a barrister mocked protestors understanding of the issue stating: 

“other protestors complained bitterly that it was the ‘illegal migrants’ who were the criminals, giving the cameras the benefit of their sophisticated understanding of asylum law and the minutiae of the Dublin III Regulation.”

Now it may be that protestors were ignorant of the legal realities of the matter and a barrister lack expertise of the subject. A matter set out in law does not make it beyond reproach. What Mr Paul may fail to appreciate is that to the public, the law may not fit with common sense. 

To many members of the public, it does not seem unreasonable for presumptive asylum seekers to present themselves to claim asylum at the first safe destination they reach. To them, the status of those continuing through continental Europe to try and cross the channel changes from being an asylum seeker to that of an economic migrant. 

Now, as Mr Paul stated, it may be onerous to claim asylum from the United Kingdom while resident in their own country due to factors like oppression. However, that does not prevent the individual from then approaching the British embassy in the first safe country they come to. 

You could argue that those who attempt to enter the United Kingdom illegally do so to circumvent our immigration system. For instance of those placed in Penally by the Home Office did they present themselves willingly as an asylum seeker or did they seek to claim asylum after being caught by officials from the Border Agency or the police?

How they come to make the asylum application does matter, those with legitimate grounds for applying would surely apply at the earliest opportunity instead of avoiding making the application until compelled to do so after being apprehended. This differentiation does contribute to the public perception of those applying for asylum. Would you consider those making the Channel crossing legitimate asylum seekers if they do not seek to make an official application?

Britain should remain a welcome home for those in peril as it has been for centuries having welcomed the Huguenots, Kindertransport to the Ugandan Asians. However, we should be concerned about illegal immigration masquerading under the guise of asylum seekers as it is unfair on those who seek to follow the correct process to come to the United Kingdom. 

To close, be under no doubt that some of the behaviour witnessed in Penally was unacceptable in some cases even possibly criminal. To reduce hostility the Home Office needs to be more open and engaged with local communities to ensure that they do not feel imposed upon and concerns disregarded.  

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