The controversial asylum seeker barge is due to arrive in Cornwall this Saturday, with the government facing potential legal challenges. Police and the Tory council have raised concerns saying the barge amounted to a “quasi prison”. Conservative MP for South Dorset Richard Drax has pledged to “fight on” and prevent 500 asylum seekers from being housed there. The government is pursuing its policy of moving migrants out of hotel accommodation, housing them on barges such as the Bibby Stockholm or military bases. This Saturday, the Bibby Stockholm will arrive in Cornwall, where it will undergo extensive checks and refurbishments before relocating to Portland Port. According to The Independent, asylum seekers will only move onto the barge in June or July. Speaking to the paper, Drax said:
“Legal action has not been ruled out, absolutely not – we’re very keen to stop this.”
The Home Office faces opposition from local communities, MPs, charities, and police officers. Dorset Council Tory leader Spencer Flower urged for information regarding additional police capacity:
“Currently, though, they (police) also have detailed questions that need answering and that are necessary to ensure the safety of all concerned.
“I have been and remain in regular contact with both the Home Secretary and the policing minister with regard to the funding that will be required to meet the extra policing needs that this project will entail.
“I am determined that the funding should not come from the current police budget or from the people of Dorset, and I will continue to push the government to fully fund the necessary security requirements brought about by the decision they have made to site this barge here in our county.
“We still have serious reservations about the appropriateness of Portland Port in this scenario, and we remain opposed to the proposals.”
The Home Office is meeting with local, regional, and national public sector bodies to plan for the arrival and running of the asylum seeker barge. Defending its plans, a Home Office spokesperson said:
“The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.
“We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6 million a day.
“We have to use alternative accommodation options, as our European neighbours are doing – including the use of barges and ferries to save the British taxpayer money.”
Speaking to Chard and Ilminster News, Portland Port’s chief executive Bill Reeves said:
“We understand that there are genuine concerns about the arrival of the accommodation facility for refugees at Portland.
“We wish to reassure local people that a great deal of effort and coordination is being carried out in relation to such issues as security, policing, health provision and other matters.
Regarding crime and anti-social behaviour, Reeves said concerns had “proven to be unfounded” at other sites, and there was “no reason to expect any different here”.
Migrant charities oppose asylum seeker barge as Portland Port points out potential “economic benefits.”
The Bibby Stockholm formerly housed migrants for the Dutch government but was ultimately deemed unsuitable by the same. It has 222 ensuite rooms, meaning the 500 asylum seekers will need to share the rooms, leaving them with less than an average parking space each.
The Refugee Council and Amnesty International have expressed serious concerns as to the suitability of the barge, with Amnesty going as far as calling for an end to the “ministerial cruelty”.
A British Red Cross spokesperson told BBC News that barges did not “offer the supportive environment that people coping with the trauma of having to flee their homes need”.
Meanwhile, Portland Port bosses have said that berthing asylum seeker barges would “drive continued growth, secure more long-term jobs and generate future investment” whilst insisting it was “the right thing to do”.
Port bosses emphasised that they did not expect the Bibby Stockholm to disrupt tourism in the area. Dismissing concerns, the chief executive of Portland Port, Bill Reeves, said that the asylum seekers would have access to exercise and recreational facilities.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised the plans as a byproduct of “the government’s failed asylum policy”.