Home Office to Announce Barge as Accommodation for Asylum Seekers
Aletha Adu, The Guardian, April 3, 2023
The Home Office is poised to reveal a barge as its first offshore accommodation for asylum seekers, the Guardian understands.
The Bibby Stockholm has been used “all over Europe” to accommodate asylum seekers, according to sources close to the Barbados Maritime ship registry, which oversees the use of this vessel. It currently has a gym, a well-furnished bar and more than 220 en-suite bedrooms over three decks.
The vessel, operated by the Liverpool-based company Bibby Marine, was previously used by the Netherlands to house about 500 asylum seekers in the early 2000s.
Last week the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, said “nothing is off the table” when it came to reducing the use of hotels to house asylum seekers, insisting that they had served as an “incentive” for small boat crossings.
“The idea that you can get on an illegal boat run by some gangster to get into this country and be housed in a hotel, that’s going to end,” Raab said, as the government prepared to announce plans to house asylum seekers on barges, other vessels and in military bases.
Many Conservative MPs have criticised the government’s plans to house asylum seekers on barges. The former business minister Jackie Doyle-Price questioned whether such proposals could harm port-based businesses.
Richard Drax, the MP for South Dorset, said the use of boats or barges was “totally and utterly out of the question”, and would exacerbate existing problems “tenfold”.
The MP also threatened to take legal action over the announcement, saying: “We are looking at all legal routes. We will look at any way we can stop this. Every angle is being looked at.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow and requires us to look at a range of accommodation options which offer better value for money for taxpayers than hotels.”
Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, last week dismissed the plans as “government spin”, as ministers had not then said they would use barges instead of hotels, but said in time there could be “hotels overflowing with people and barges overflowing with people until the government speeds up processing claims”.
It follows a number of reports highlighting government plans to house asylum seekers on giant barges that were normally used for offshore construction projects, after the Guardian revealed that officials were also considering the use of disused cruise ships.
William Wragg, the MP for Hazel Grove, suggested the government was pursuing a “something must be seen to be done policy” by suggesting migrants should be housed on boats, and evoked a 1990s children’s television programme as he lambasted the “Rosie and Jim idea of barges all over the place”.
Amnesty International UK’s Steve Valdez-Symonds said the “huge and expensive backlog” in asylum claims, which he blamed on the government, was “no excuse for failing to treat people properly”.
“People who have escaped terror and torture, endured criminal exploitation and traumatic journeys should be treated with basic human dignity, not corralled on barges or other grossly inadequate and isolated accommodation,” he added.
The government has also faced resistance from senior Tory MPs over plans to use military sites to house asylum seekers. The former home secretary Priti Patel questioned plans for the former RAF base based in the Braintree constituency of James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, which neighbours her own.
The proposals came after the Home Office admitted that nearly 400 hotels across the country were being used to accommodate more than 51,000 people at a reported cost of more than £6m a day.