Asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge describe ‘prison-like conditions’

Sister of Albanian asylum seeker who died on the Bibby Stockholm calls for independent inquiry into his death

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 24 April 2024 08:37 BST
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Asylum seekers on the Bibbly Stockholm have said they feel like prisoners, are searched every time they go outside, and are unable to see friends because of detention-like conditions on the barge.

A cleaner who worked on the controversial barge has also claimed that she was unfairly dismissed for being too friendly to residents, a new report on the asylum accommodation reveals.

A report into the Bibby Stockholm, published by local refugee support groups and charity Care4Calais, found that asylum seekers are being extensively searched when they come off and on the barge - leaving them feeling trapped and unable to get support from friends outside.

Campaigners are concerned about the ongoing isolation of the asylum seekers on board, which is berthed at Portland port in Dorset, and the detention-like conditions they are in. The report comes after an Albanian asylum seeker, Leonard Farruku, died on the barge in December 2023. His family have called for an independent investigation into his death and raised concerns about the conditions on the barge, including the vulnerability and complex mental health needs of those on board.

Leonard’s sister Jola Dushku said: “He was a lovely person who came to the UK to build a new life full of hope. We feel the UK government should be held responsible for Leonard’s death.”

Leonard Farruku died on the Bibby Stockholm barge in December 2023
Leonard Farruku died on the Bibby Stockholm barge in December 2023 (Supplied)

One resident who is gender fluid described his experience on the Bibby Stockholm, saying: “I am visibly queer and my very bad experiences were the main reason for leaving my country. I am gender fluid and this makes me a target. I was the victim of a hate crime where I was before I came to the barge, which resulted in a prison sentence for the man who did it.

“Because I am gender fluid, I am an obvious target which always put me in danger. The Home Office was aware of all of this, but I was still moved to the Bibby Stockholm where everyone is male and has to share a room.”

Another Bibby resident said that they were not allowed to have friends come and visit them. With the barge being inside an operational port there are restrictions on movement, which the resident said makes the barge feel like a prison.

One asylum seeker described the restrictions, saying: “When leaving and entering we have to be scanned, like airport security. Many people don’t go outside because of this. They stayed inside and tried to do something in the ‘common’ rooms. But there is not enough space for people.

The Bibby Stockholm in Dorset is being used to house asylum seekers
The Bibby Stockholm in Dorset is being used to house asylum seekers (PA Wire)

“When there were only 39 people, the staff’s behaviour was very good. When the number increased, the behaviour of the staff was not good.”

Another asylum seeker told researchers: “They search everything - we have to remove belts, caps, jackets, then go through the scanner and luggage would go through the machine. If we have liquids, they check this. I tried to avoid the staff all the time. If they said something rude I kept silent.

“If you do something, they make reports. Because of this, when I was there I didn’t go outside of the barge for 14 days, for two weeks. I just stayed in the room, because of the depression. I was so stressed because of my case.”

One asylum seeker said that some of the staff members don’t speak English because they are from Ukraine, creating an extra layer of language barrier.

One cleaner who worked on the Bibby Stockholm also told the charity that she had been sacked for being too friendly to the residents.

Levana, who worked on the barge in 2023, said she found the asylum seekers on the barge “respectful, helpful and polite towards me, and I felt sympathy for their situation”. She added: “This did not appear to be the attitude of some of the senior staff, who made comments about the service users that were often hostile, and possibly racist. They told me I should be careful of them because they were illegal”.

The cleaner said that she was given a verbal warning by her manager on 12 December 2023 when she and another member of staff stood outside on their break with two of the barge residents who were smoking. She explained: “I was told that I was being given a verbal warning because I should not be friendly with the service users in this way…after this, I worked one more booked shift and then was offered no further work, even though other staff were being offered shifts.”

She added: “I believe I was unfairly dismissed and have suffered discrimination because I was courteous to the Bibby Stockholm residents.”

Lynne Hubbard, at Stand Up to Racism Dorset, said that Black people locally have experienced increased racism from people opposed to the barge. She said: “Before refugees had even arrived, photographs of local people who were not white were circulated online, suggesting they were asylum seekers and were a threat to local children and girls.” She said they started to fear for the safety of those onboard when horrible threats against them circulated online.

Grafton Straker, joint chair of Stand up to Racism Dorset, said: “As a black person who has lived in Weymouth for many years, I am also angry that the way the barge has been dumped on local people has allowed the far right to try and exploit the situation. This has increased racial tension in the whole area.”

Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais said: ‘People should not be accommodated in these prison-like conditions. That’s particularly true of people who have survived horrors of torture and modern slavery.” He called for a halt on new arrivals and for the barge to be closed.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not recognise the claims made in this report.

“The Bibby Stockholm is part of the government’s plan to reduce the use of expensive hotels and bring forward alternative accommodation options which are more cost-effective, sustainable and manageable for the taxpayer and local communities.

“There are rigorous safeguarding processes in place on the barge. Residents have access to health and social care services, including mental health support. If concerns are raised about any aspect of the service delivered, we work with the provider to ensure these are swiftly addressed, and Migrant Help 24/7 is also available every day of the year.”

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