Government reveals full details of plan to house 500 asylum seekers on a barge in Dorset

The government has laid out controversial plans to house around 500 asylum seekers on a barge off the coast of Dorset.

The Home Office said the three-storey Bibby Stockholm would be berthed in Portland, where the local MP and council have threatened legal challenges.

The 93-metre long vessel, being leased from Liverpool-based Bibby Marine Limited, previously saw at least one person die and reports of rape and abuse on board when it was used by the Dutch government to detain asylum seekers.

The Home Office said only “single adult males” would be housed on the vessel, and that it needed to move asylum seekers out of hotels currently costing more than £6m per day.

“It will provide basic and functional accommodation, and healthcare provision, catering facilities and 24/7 security will be in place on board, to minimise the disruption to local communities,” a spokesperson added.

“Migrants are due to be moved onto the Bibby Stockholm in the coming months. The Home Office is in discussions with other ports and further vessels will be announced in due course.”

The government hopes the barge, as well as old military bases and a former prison, will lower costs but charities have labelled the sites “unsuitable” and called for the Home Office to speed up the processing of asylum cases amid record backlogs.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the use of barges and ferries would save public money and “prevent the UK becoming a magnet”.

“All accommodation will meet our legal obligations and we will work closely with the local community to address their concerns, including through financial support,” he added.

The Home Office is currently housing more than 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers in hundreds of hotels, at an average cost of £120 each per night.

The plans have already sparked outrage, with local Tory MP Richard Drax threatening to look at “any way” to thwart Ms Braverman’s proposal. Conservative-run Dorset Council is also opposed to the plans.

Mr Drax, the MP for South Dorset, said the barge was being “dumped on our door” without consultation by the Home Office and threatened a legal challenge if the idea is not scrapped.

He added: “We want to get this consigned to the dustbin before anything’s signed. We want to activate ourselves and say, ‘look home secretary, sorry – this is not the right place, can you please cancel this’.”

Separate plans to use two ex-military bases and a former prison were met with anger by local Tories when they were unveiled last week.

The Bibby Stockholm was used to detain asylum seekers in the Netherlands in the 2000s, but was taken out of service after an undercover investigation by a Dutch newspaper uncovered mistreatment by prison officers, rapes by migrants and fire safety failings.

Several migrants imprisoned on ships in the Netherlands are reported to have died, including an Algerian man on the Bibby Stockholm in 2008.

The barge was later refurbished to be used as accommodation for Petrofac workers constructing a gas plant in Shetland.

A current company brochure states that it contains 222 single en-suite bedrooms, a kitchen and restaurant, TV and games rooms, gym and bar.

The use of barges and cruise ships to house asylum seekers was previously ruled out by the Treasury, while Rishi Sunak was chancellor.

Hotels used to accomodate asylum seekers, such as in Knowsley, have been the target of local anger stoked by far-right groups (Peter Powell/PA)

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