THE start of moving asylum seekers out of Penally Camp is reportedly underway.

Home Office immigration minister Chris Philp has stated that it is intended to move all the residents of the camp into 'suitable dispersed accommodation as soon as reasonably practical' and they were hoping to start moves - albeit for small numbers of people - from last Monday, January 18.

As the Western Telegraph reported yesterday, Tuesday, a law firm said it had already secured the move of 20 'vulnerable' individuals from the camp into other accommodation.

The minister's statement, following a Parliamentary question, has been hailed as 'hopeful news' by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, although they have called for evidence that people are actually moving out of the former Ministry of Defence facility.

Liberal Democrat MP, Wendy Chamberlain raised the question for Home Secretary Priti Patel on January 12 in relation to the timescale of relocation of Penally Camp's asylum seekers and what assessment had been made for the safety of the camp, with Mr Philp responding on Monday, January 18.

Mr Philp said:

''It remains our intention to move all individuals in contingency accommodation into suitable dispersed accommodation as soon as reasonably practical, we are hoping to commence moves for small numbers of people out from week commencing 18th January, however our immediate priority is to ensure that we continue to meet out legal duty to house destitute asylum seekers and ensure their safety and wellbeing.

In relation to the assessment, he added: ''The Home Office have undertaken a number of assessments at the Penally Camp; Equality Impact, Fire, Evacuation controls/plans and infection controls including for Covid 19.

''A rapid review of asylum accommodation was undertaken with the assistance of Human Applications who conducted a ‘deep dive’ on our approach to initial accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic.

''We continue to work closely with the Welsh health leads and if necessary, conduct an internal evaluation of asylum support provision in Penally with any recommendations being actioned accordingly.''

Alistair Cameron, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire said:

“The asylum seekers are staying in the middle of winter in army barracks which are unsuitable as long term accommodation.

''They are sleeping six to a room and run the risk of being infected with coronavirus. Many will have fled areas of conflict and they will have been deeply traumatised by their experiences. As a caring country, we should provide safe, warm and clean accommodation just as we would expect if we were in similar circumstances.

“I now urge the Home Office to move all of the asylum seekers out of the camp as quickly as possible and to process their claims for asylum.”

Wendy Chamberlain MP has asked the Home Secretary further questions, including about the arrangements for the asylum seekers to receive mental health support as well as what action has been taken to speed up the processing of asylum seekers.

According to the Refugee Council, at the end of September 2020, 60,548 people were waiting for an outcome on their initial claim for asylum. Of these, 46,108 (76%) have been waiting for more than 6 months, up from 26,125 this time last year.