First asylum seekers expected to move onto Bibby Stockholm barge next week

At full capacity of 500, each asylum seeker will have less living space than an average car parking bay

Sam Blewett
Thursday 27 July 2023 23:49 BST
Inside the Bibby Stockholm asylum barge

The Home Office is expecting to send an initial 50 people to the UK’s first floating barge for asylum seekers on Tuesday despite safety concerns and local opposition.

A Whitehall source confirmed the details of the first arrivals at the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, and numbers are due to rise gradually over the coming months.

The floating facility will host around 500 men at a time under government efforts to reduce the use of hotels to house people awaiting the results of asylum claims.

A record backlog and thousands of people making unauthorised crossings of the Channel have strained the system as prime minister Rishi Sunak battles to “stop the boats”.

But refugee charities said the use of barges and former military bases to house asylum seekers is damaging to the needs of vulnerable people, and also raised concerns for migrants’ safety.

Conservative MPs representing areas where the facilities are being established have also been worried about how their constituencies will be impacted.

A month behind schedule after undergoing repairs, Bibby Stockholm was met by protesters as it arrived in Portland Port on Tuesday last week.

The Bibby Stockholm barge has proved controversial with locals and refugee campaigners (Ben Birchall/PA)
The Bibby Stockholm barge has proved controversial with locals and refugee campaigners (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)

Some residents have raised concerns for their safety on the island with a population of around 13,000 and argued that it does not have the infrastructure to provide for the newcomers and those already there.

Once fully up and running, up to six people will be packed into each of the beige-walled rooms, which line narrow linoleum-floored corridors.

Most cabins feature an austere two-person bunk bed, desk, metal wardrobe and en-suite bathroom, with the door just an arm’s length away from the bedframe. But a small number of slightly larger rooms have two or three bunk beds in each.

Calculations by The Independent show that, at full capacity, each asylum seeker will have less living space than an average car parking bay, even when taking shared spaces and outdoor courtyards into account.

Every time they enter and leave, they must go through airport-style security with walk-through scanners and checks on any bags or shopping.

Security guards will be on board at all hours, including some with a military background, who have been trained for a range of scenarios including potential disputes and fights.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Bibby Stockholm has completed a statutory inspection and refurbishment and is now berthing in Portland.

“The welfare of those in our care is of the utmost priority and the barge is now undergoing final preparations to ensure it complies with all appropriate regulations before the arrival of the first asylum seekers in the coming weeks.”

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