Home Office Faces Criticism for Confining Asylum Seekers on Barge
A 1970s-built mega-barge, the 222-bedroom Bibby Stockholm, has arrived at a British port to house 500 male asylum seekers (Illegal Channel Migrants). The barge was towed into UK waters from Italy and will undergo assessment and refurbishment in Falmouth, Cornwall. It will then be moved off the Isle of Portland within a few weeks.
The Home Office stated that the barge will provide “basic and functional accommodation,” healthcare, catering facilities, and round-the-clock security.
The Bibby Stockholm will operate in Portland for at least 18 months, and the Home Office is considering deploying more vessels. Liverpool-based Bibby Marine Limited says the 93-metre-long barge has been refurbished since being described as an “oppressive environment” for asylum seekers in the Netherlands.
Human rights organisations criticised the “cruelty” of confining hundreds of vulnerable people on a barge and blamed the Government for the backlog of asylum claims. Around 51,000 asylum seekers are currently in temporary accommodation, such as hotels.
Spencer Flower, the Tory leader of Dorset Council, said the authority remains opposed to the plan and that the Home Office has failed to answer questions about the scheme.
Portland Port has removed the arrival and departure dates of cruise ships from its website to deter anti-migrant demonstrations expected in protest of the barge’s presence. Dorset police and crime commissioner (PCC) David Sidwick has demanded answers about funding for extra policing that will be required.
The Home Office has not revealed the cost of the lease agreement for the vessel but estimates suggest the overall price tag of the charter and berthing at more than £20,000 a day. The Home Office defended the plan, stating that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable and costly to the UK taxpayer, at £6 million a day.
Portland Port’s chief executive Bill Reeves said that asylum seekers will be advised on “cultural sensitivities and behaviour” before being housed on the barge. He reassured local residents that efforts are being made to address security, policing, health provision, and other matters.