Despite local opposition, UK asylum seekers will be housed on a barge in Dorset. The decision to house 500 men on the Bibby Stockholm vessel in Portland port has been criticised by human rights groups and the Tory council.
After confirming it will house roughly 500 UK asylum seekers on a giant barge off the Dorset coast, the Home Office is headed for a showdown with a Conservative council, MP, and human rights groups.
The Home Office said in a statement that the Bibby Stockholm, which will dock in Portland, Dorset, would provide “basic and functional accommodation” and healthcare to single men at a lower cost than hotels.
The Home Office was “looking into the use of additional vessels to accommodate migrants,” the statement continued.
The decision, which had been widely anticipated but was delayed while officials negotiated the use of the Barbados-registered 220 bedroom barge, was criticised by the Tory-run Dorset council, which said it was urgently seeking clarification from the Home Office on a number of issues.
According to reports, each asylum seeker housed on a ship will net local governments £3,500. However, the Home Office only mentioned “financial support” in its announcement.
The Conservative MP for South Dorset, Richard Drax, has promised to take legal action to prevent the barge from being moored off Portland, citing the lack of infrastructure and lack of consultation with the city’s 13,000 residents.
Although there will be security and food on the barge, UK asylum seekers are not being detained and can leave at any time to visit Portland. Drax warned that this could become a problem, saying,
“Outside there will be no control over where they go, what they do in a very sensitive seaside town.”
The statement promised that people would be transferred to the barge “in the coming months,” adding that the Home Office was “in discussions with other ports and further vessels will be announced in due course.” The Bibby Stockholm is currently docked in the waters of Italy’s Genoa.
Less than one percent of the approximately 51,000 refugees who are currently staying in hotels while their asylum claims are processed could fit on the barge even if it were completely full. Under pressure from Conservative MPs and community outrage, the government has pledged to house asylum seekers in the most basic facilities allowed by international law.
This is part of an effort ministers call a disincentive for people to cross the Channel in small boats. A week ago, Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, said that refugees would be housed on boats and in abandoned army bases whenever possible.
He claimed that this would be in accordance with legal requirements meant to protect new arrivals from becoming “destitute,” but offered no further details.
This is part of a larger effort to discourage people from seeking asylum by passing a law that would prevent anyone from entering the UK illegally from ever staying there, regardless of whether or not they were trafficked.
As an alternative, they would be deported to Rwanda or elsewhere. “just more of the political theatre that the government has created to obscure its gross mismanagement of the asylum system,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds of Amnesty International UK about the barge plan.
He argued that those seeking asylum in the country should be provided with safe, clean living quarters and that their claims should be promptly and uniformly reviewed.
The head of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, said the barge was “completely inadequate” to house “vulnerable people who have come to our country in search of safety after fleeing beatings and death threats in countries like Afghanistan and Iran.”
According to British Red Cross representative Christina Marriott: “People seeking asylum need stability, to be able to maintain contact with loved ones and to feel safe.
Barges in dock are not a good place for people to recover from the trauma of having to leave their homes because they are cut off from the rest of the community. Bibby Stockholm will remain docked in the port and open for business for at least 18 months.
The Netherlands once used the 91-meter Bibby Marine-operated vessel to house about 500 asylum seekers in the early 2000s. According to the Barbados Maritime ship registry, which controls the use of this vessel, it has been used “all over Europe” to house asylum seekers.
It has a gym, a nice bar and over 220 comfortable cabins with private bathrooms spread across three levels. the barge plan is “a sign of the Conservatives’ total failure to clear the asylum backlog,”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said.
Cooper also said that the government should put more money into finding better and more humane ways to house people seeking asylum.
She claimed that the asylum system’s decision to use a barge as temporary housing showed a lack of forethought and dedication to fixing the system’s problems.
There needs to be a holistic and compassionate approach to managing asylum cases, and the decision to repurpose this vessel raises concerns about the conditions and welfare of the individuals seeking refuge.