Huge barge set to house 500 asylum seekers arrives in the UK
A barge set to house 500 asylum seekers has arrived in the UK as the government struggles with efforts to move migrants out of hotels.
The Independent understands that people will not be transferred onto the Bibby Stockholm until July, following refurbishment to increase its capacity and safety checks.
The barge has been towed from its former berth in Italy to the port of Falmouth, in Cornwall.
It will remain there while works are carried out, before being moved onto its final destination in Portland, Dorset.
The private operators of the port struck an agreement to host the barge with the Home Office without formal public consultation, angering the local council and residents.
Conservative MP Richard Drax previously told The Independent legal action was still being considered to stop the government’s plans for what he labelled a “quasi-prison”.
He accused ministers and Home Office officials of being “unable to answer” practical questions on how the barge will operate, such as how asylum seekers will be able to come and go safely through the port, what activities they will be provided with and how sufficient healthcare will be ensured.
“The question is how do we cope?” Mr Drax said. “Every organisation has its own raft of questions: ‘Where’s the money coming from? Who’s going to do what if this all happens?’ There are not sufficient answers, which is very worrying.”
The Independent previously revealed that asylum seekers will have less living space than an average parking bay on the Bibby Stockholm, which saw at least one person die and reports of rape and abuse on board when it was used by the Dutch government to detain migrants in the 2000s.
An official brochure released by owner Bibby Marine shows there are only 222 “single en-suite bedrooms” on board, meaning that at least two people must be crammed into every cabin for the government to achieve its aim of holding 500 people.
Dorset Council has said it still had “serious reservations about the appropriateness of Portland Port in this scenario and remains opposed to the proposals”.
The Conservative police and crime commissioner for Dorset is demanding extra government funding for the local force to “meet the extra policing needs that this project will entail”.
A multi-agency forum including representatives from national, regional and local public sector agencies has been looking at plans for the provision of health services, the safety and security of both asylum seekers and local residents and charity involvement.
Portland Port said it had been working with the Home Office and local agencies to ensure the safe arrival and operation of the Bibby Stockholm, and to minimise its impact locally.
The barge is part of a wider government push to move migrants out of hotels, which are currently housing more than 47,000 asylum seekers at a cost of £6m a day.
But the use of ships as accommodation was previously ruled out on cost grounds by the Treasury, when Rishi Sunak was chancellor, and the government has not confirmed how much it will be spending on the scheme.
Ministers have also identified several former military and government sites, including two defunct airbases and an empty prison, that they want to transform into asylum accommodation.
But a court battle with Braintree District Council over former RAF Wethersfield is ongoing, and legal action has also been threatened over similar plans for RAF Scampton in Lancashire.
Last month, a barrister representing home secretary Suella Braverman told the High Court that 56,000 people were expected to arrive on small boats in 2023 and that some could be made homeless if hotel places are not found.