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Home Office in court: Asylum seeker’s legal team argue Penally Camp conditions are ‘unlawful’

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A COURT CASE has been filed in the High Court against the Home Office by a resident of the Penally Asylum Seeker Accommodation Centre.

The 20-year-old Iraqi national at the centre of the case has mounted a legal challenge arguing the way that he has been treated is “plainly unlawful”.

His lawyers are arguing on his behalf that an ex-army camp holding hundreds of asylum seekers is in breach coronavirus guidelines, and places residents at risk of suffering degrading treatment.

The asylum seeker’s legal team have also said that the conditions in the camps are breach the government guidelines on Covid-19 precautions, as well as placing residents at risk of suffering from “degrading” treatment due to unhygienic conditions and a lack of access to medical care.

It was revealed in court on Friday that an asylum seeker recently tested positive for the coronavirus in Penally barracks – and there was no indication that others who were in close contact were allowed, or required, to self-isolate, nor that anyone who might have been in contact had been tested and treated as required.

The Home Office has already faced a number of individual challenges from asylum seekers – at least 10 of which the department conceded before the case went to court, resulting in the claimants being moved out.

Submissions were made in the High Court on Friday (Dec 4).

The Iraqi says he was one of the first to arrive at the camp, having been moved to Penally barracks soon after it opened. He was previously housed in various hotels since he arrived to the UK in March this year.

The legal team argues that his continued stay at the camp has posed a “real risk” to his health and that there had been “no lawful or reasonable justification for removing him from suitable accommodation to the facility”.

The court was told that conditions at the camp did not allow for social distancing nor for compliance with the six-person rule, and that there was “no indication” that residents had proper access to medical care or masks, unless provided by a charity.

In documents submitted to court, the legal case is put forward as follows: “The [Home Office’s] failures arguably amount to a breach of Article 3 [of the] European Convention of Human

Rights and amount to serious mistreatment, neglect and general poor care on the part of the secretary of state,”.

They went on to state that while it was accepted that there was an “added burden” on the Home Office because of Covid-19, the department’s actions were nonetheless “plainly unlawful”.

A Home Office spokesperson said residents were staying in safe, Covid-compliant conditions, in line with the law and social-distancing requirements, and were provided with guidance in relation to self-isolation, social distancing and hygiene.

However, a lawyer acting for the 20-year old Iraqi said that while the Home Office assert that the barracks is Covid safe, it is “plainly not given the absence of even the most basic Covid precautions such as hand sanitiser.”

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has condemned the decision to place asylum seekers in the ex-military facilities, calling for “proper processes for transparency and accountability” in place throughout the immigration system.

Sonia Lenegan, legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, said: “Since the barracks were repurposed as asylum accommodation in September, concerns have been raised about the unsuitability of this accommodation by NGOs, lawyers, medical professionals, the Welsh government, the police as well as the local community.
“It is time for the Home Office to listen to these concerns, close the barracks and move people into safe and appropriate accommodation.”
A Home Office spokesperson told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “As this is an ongoing legal case it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

The case continues.

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News

Withyhedge Landfill: Multi-agency statement issued to residents

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NATURAL Resources Wales (NRW) shared the most recent findings from a visit to Withyhedge Landfill site in Pembrokeshire at a Multi-agency Incident Management Team meeting on Wednesday, 10 April. The meeting included representatives from Pembrokeshire County Council (PCC), Public Health Wales (PHW) and Hywel Dda University Health Board.

All authorities acknowledge and empathise with the impact this prolonged odour issue is having on members of the communities that surround Withyhedge Landfill.

This is a complex and ever-changing situation, and partners are working extremely hard to reach a point where the odour problems are resolved.

NRW officers attended the site on Monday 8 April. It appears, from a visual assessment of the work undertaken on site, that the required capping work and gas well installation has been completed by site operators, RML, in line with the deadline of the S36 Enforcement Notice, issued by NRW on 13 February 2024.

However, this can only be fully assessed by NRW once survey and construction validation reports have been submitted. The operator is now preparing these and once received, a formal assessment will be undertaken.

The authorities will review the findings and revise their action plans where appropriate.

Odour Monitoring

Since the passing of the S36 Enforcement Notice deadline of Friday 5 April, and in response to continued high volumes of odour reports from the local community, NRW and PCC increased odour monitoring in residential areas over the weekend and into this week.

Other possible areas on site where odour may be coming from have been identified and the statement from the company issued 9 April provides further detail.

RML submitted plans to address these on 10 April, which are now being considered by NRW.

Air Quality Monitoring

RML has also commissioned an independent party to carry out air quality monitoring, and this work continues. PCC and NRW are providing technical advice in support of this work.

The first round of diffusion tubes monitoring results detected Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) at one of the 10 monitoring sites. Hydrogen sulphide being a colourless gas which often smells like rotten eggs and can come from the breakdown of waste materials in landfill.

More data is required for meaningful analysis and Public Health Wales continue to advocate for further air monitoring to take place as soon as possible. This is being progressed by PCC and NRW.

Reporting odour

NRW requests that instances of odour from the landfill continue to be reported via this dedicated form: https://bit.ly/reportasmellwithyhedge.

Please report odours at the time of them being experienced, rather than historically. Reporting odours in a timely manner will help guide the work of partners more effectively, particularly in the further development of air quality monitoring.

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Health

Doctors to enter pay negotiations with the Welsh Government

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BMA CYMRU Wales has suspended forthcoming industrial action for Consultants and SAS doctors following a constructive meeting with the Welsh government to resolve its pay disputes.

As a result of sustained pressure, including three rounds of industrial action by junior doctors in Wales, the Welsh Government has made a significant proposal to form the basis of talks to end the pay disputes with all secondary care doctors including Consultants, SAS and Junior doctors.

Since the meeting last week, the committees representing doctors from all three branches of practice have voted to enter pay negotiations based on this proposal.

The planned 48-hour strike by Consultants and SAS doctors due to take place from 16 April will now be suspended.

Junior doctors have paused plans to announce more strike dates whilst they enter negotiations with the Welsh Government.

The Welsh junior doctors committee, Welsh SAS committee and Welsh consultants committee will now each engage in pay negotiations, with the aim of reaching deals which can be taken separately to their respective members.

Dr Oba Babs Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey co-chairs of the BMA’s Welsh Junior doctors Committee said:

“This is a significant step forward. It is sad that we had to take industrial action to get here, but we are proud of members for demonstrating their resolve in pursuit of a fair deal for the profession.

“Whilst we are optimistic and hope to quickly resolve our dispute, we remain steadfast in achieving pay restoration. Until we reach a deal, nothing is off the table.

 “We will continue to work hard to reach an offer that is credible to put to members who will ultimately have the final say.”

Dr Stephen Kelly, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ Consultants committee said:

“The Welsh Government’s recent efforts to reach an end to the pay dispute are encouraging and so we have called off our planned strike for now whilst we allow time and space for negotiations to take place.

“We’re hopeful that we can reach a deal that sufficiently addresses years of erosion to our pay to help retain senior doctors in Wales but remain ready to strike if we’re not able to do so during negotiations.”

Dr Ali Nazir, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ SAS doctor committee said:

“As a committee, we felt that this latest development goes someway to understanding the strength of feeling of our members. We will work hard to reach a settlement that sufficiently meets the expectation of our colleagues who have faced real terms pay cuts of up to a third since 2008/9.”

In August last year, the BMA’s committees representing secondary care doctors in Wales voted to enter into separate trade disputes with the Welsh Government after being offered another below inflation pay uplift of just 5% for the 23/24 financial year. SAS doctors on some contracts were offered as little as 1.5%. This was the lowest pay offer any government in the UK offered and less than the DDRB, the pay review body for doctors and dentists, recommended last year.

As part of their disputes, SAS doctors, consultants and junior doctors carried out successful ballots for industrial action. Since then, junior doctors have taken part in 10 days of industrial action since January this year.

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Health

BMA pay disputes – Junior Doctors, Consultants and Specialist Doctors

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THE WELSH Government and BMA Wales’ three national committees representing consultants, SAS doctors and junior doctors have today agreed to formal negotiations about pay.

Planned industrial action will be suspended during the negotiations.

A mandate is being developed for the talks with all three BMA branches of practice with the aim of resolving the disputes over pay for 2023-24.

In the context of the most challenging financial position the Welsh Government has faced since devolution, a significant amount of work has been undertaken to identify funding to support the negotiations.

First Minister Vaughan Gething said: “We recognise the strength of feeling among BMA members and that industrial action is never taken lightly.

“This is a government that listens and engages to find solutions. I prioritised a meeting with the BMA directly alongside the Cabinet Secretary for Health to reinforce our commitment to that partnership approach.

“We currently face the most severe financial situation in the devolution era which makes our task far harder. Despite this backdrop, we have worked to identify a way forward that I hope will lead to the successful resolution of this dispute and ensure that doctors can return to work in NHS Wales.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health Eluned Morgan added: “Even in these very challenging circumstances, we have worked in social partnership with the BMA and NHS to maintain patent safety during industrial action.

“But the strikes have been very disruptive to the delivery of NHS services – none of us want to see doctors on strike. I am pleased the three BMA committees have agreed to pause further industrial action and begin formal talks with Welsh Government and hope we can bring an end to this dispute.”

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