A military base in Pembrokeshire will be used as a temporary camp for asylum seekers in a matter of days despite local opposition.

Up to 250 asylum seekers, who will be single adult males, will be housed at the MoD facility just outside Tenby as facilities in south-east England reach straining point.

All those in the camp will be free to move around the area while their claims are being processed, with a checking in system to monitor their movements.

Penally's Army training centre was the only location considered in Wales by the Home Office but locals say the plan had been "sprung" on the village. South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart said he was only told about the plans last week.

Just days after it was confirmed the centre was being "actively considered", residents living next to the boundary fence said they saw vehicles coming and going and removing what looked like bedding from some of the huts.

On Thursday evening, the normally-shut up huts had their doors open and the rows of beds inside could be seen inside.

Some locals believe the first wave of arrivals will begin on Monday depending on the number of immigrants landing on UK shores over the coming days.

The Penally Army Centre, less than two miles from Tenby, could house up to 250 asylum seekers
People are worried how the proposals will affect the normally-quiet village which depends on tourism

The UK Government has confirmed its plans for Penally which it has said is a "temporary arrangement" of up to a year.

It is understood it will be one of two "migrant camps" for people who have crossed the Channel in small boats. A disused army barracks in Kent is also due to receive asylum seekers next week. Around 400 people, including families, are set to be housed in temporary accommodation at Napier Barracks in Folkestone.

The temporary accommodation is required due in part to the fact existing facilities cannot be made "Covid-compliant" and extra capacity is needed elsewhere. Such is the "emergency situation", the Home Office said it had been unable to consult "in the usual manner".

A spokesman for the UK Government said: "This site was selected because it met the required needs following an assessment by the MOD of potentially suitable and available sites."

Locals say there have been vehicles going in and out of the camp in the last few days
The huts, which are usually shut up, were left with their doors open on Thursday evening
Rows of beds could be seen inside

The Home Office has confirmed it will provide onsite security. The spokesman added: "However, these people are not being detained so they are able to leave the site if they wish. We will be providing all their meals and wellbeing services onsite so we would anticipate they have limited need to leave the site."

There will also be a "checking in and out system" to monitor those coming and going.

But Plaid Cymru’s equalities spokeswoman, Leanne Wood, said a military camp was a “perverse” place for people who may have witnessed “the horrors of conflict”.

“In meeting its moral duty to protect these individuals, the UK Government should identify sites which are both safe and suitable to house them. At present, they seem to be failing on both fronts.”

The news has divided a normally quiet village on the outskirts of Tenby which is home to people mostly of retirement age. Rows of privately-owned houses are set back on the hill with views over the sand dunes behind Tenby South beach and Caldey Island beyond. Their gardens almost touch the perimeter fence of the MoD facility which has hardly been used over the past few years.

Penally has two pubs, a tiny village shop and a village hall. In the summer, its population more than doubles as hundreds of holidaymakers flock to Penally's four campsites.

The debate over the proposals to open the facility to house immigrants has raged so strongly between those who support the plans and those who are against it, there have been official calls to calm down the language.

People have been desperate to understand how people are going to be policed, whether they will they be able to leave the camp freely, whether there will be a curfew and whether there is a contingency plan "if things start to go wrong".

More than 200 protesters gathered outside the camp on Tuesday evening after the news broke. Police officers monitored the peaceful protest and at one stage protesters sat down in the road.

It was organised by the Penally Camp Protest Facebook group, which reached 2,200 members before it deleted itself after its admins admitted it had got "totally out of control".

A protest outside the camp on Tuesday was monitored by police and at one stage saw protesters sitting down in the road
Police monitor the protest outside the MoD facility on Monday evening

There is also a concern that the protest has been taken over by "out-of-town violent racists”.

A spokesman for the group Stand Up to Racism West Wales said: "Local people have some justifiable concerns about not being consulted over the Home Office plans and on how an area hit by austerity will cope. Shamefully, a group of fascists have travelled to the area to exploit the situation and poison the protest with myths and lies about refugees."

The people who live in Penally are disappointed by what they see as being left in the dark until what appears to be the last minute.

One resident, who didn't want to be named, said: "Everybody is in agreement that these poor souls have to be housed somewhere while their application is being processed. But people would be more confident about what is being proposed if they knew the facts."

The resident, who can see the camp from his bathroom window, added: "Rumours have been circulating and there are worries about having an unsecured camp nearby.

"But we've had people outside the community interrupting too and coming down to protest..

"People are hearing the scare stories and of course it worries them - 70% of the people living here are over 70. We just need to be informed.

"This is completely alien to us and it's going to impact us."

The Penally Army centre is immediately next to houses in the village and is surrounded by high barbed wire fencing

Jon Preston, councillor for Penally and who lives in the village, said: "Up to 250 males between the ages of 18 and 35 will be accommodated at the barracks. They will not be detained, and it will be a temporary arrangement of around six months.

"As a small community and as a county we have been totally excluded from this process. No opportunity to prepare, no opportunity to engage, no opportunity to ask, no opportunity to contribute and no opportunity to challenge.

"We will now need to come together to ensure that we are never overlooked like this again. We need to seek more suitable alternatives to fulfil our humanitarian obligations and we need to avoid any knee jerk reactions to what may be. Many questions remain unanswered and I will continue to seek answers and engage with stakeholders and communities as this situation develops."

There have been demonstrations in support and in opposition to the proposal

Tenby’s mayor, councillor Sam Skyrme-Blackhall, urged people to stay calm "despite outside influences trying to inflame the situation".

Councillor Sam Skyrme-Blackhall said: "We recognise that this is an emotive issue. We understand people’s concerns and agree that there are questions to be answered."

Although Penally Camp is not within Tenby Town Council's jurisdiction, Cllr Skyrme-Blackhall said it was working with Penally Community Council and Cllr Preston "to support them in their requests for clarification".

He added: "Regardless of your opinion on the matter, we understand people’s genuine concerns."

The 250 asylum seekers would be free to move around the area while they wait for their claims to be assessed
People living in the village say they just want answers to their questions

South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart said the impact on the community would be "minimal".

He wrote to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, earlier this week asking questions including who would fund the modified facility.

On Friday afternoon, Mr Hart said: "Whether we agree with the legal position or not, we remain bound by EU law on this matter until the end of the transition period in December. It is therefore important that the organisations listed are able to devote their full effort to minimising the local impact, while exercising the compassion and tolerance for which the UK and Wales has built an international reputation.

"If we compromise this, rather than addressing the fears some have expressed we will increase the prospect of tensions and restrict the ability of the authorities to address them."

Mr Hart's comment prompted one resident to reply, saying: "I find it alarming that as Secretary of State for Wales as well as MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire that you haven’t been consulted on this matter by the Home Office regardless of how contentious this issue is."

The Home Office said it was working with the council and police to ensure "vulnerable asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute" had suitable accommodation.

The Home Office said it had set up an 'Asylum Accommodation Strategic Group for Wales" which includes the local council, health board, police, Public Health Wales, Welsh Government, Wales Office and others.

It confirmed that no additional funding would be made available to the local council although Dyfed Powys Police are planning on applying for "special grant funding" to cover their costs.