Bibby Stockholm: Mega-barge for 500 asylum seekers arrives in Falmouth ‘amid right-wing protest fears’
A 1970s-built mega-barge which will house 500 male asylum seekers has arrived at a British port.
The 222-bedroom Bibby Stockholm was towed into UK waters after it was commandeered by the Home Office and moved from Italy.
Bibby Stockholm, the barge that’s going to be housing 500 asylum seekers is arriving in Falmouth dock now. Inspection and refit taking place before moving onto Portland Port in Weymouth ⛴️ pic.twitter.com/oKrBC1Wuhb
— Nick Dixon (@NickDixonITV) May 9, 2023
The accommodation barge arrived for an assessment and refurbishment in Falmouth, Cornwall on Tuesday morning, before it will be moved into position off the Isle of Portland in the next few weeks.
The Home Office said the barge will provide “basic and functional accommodation”, healthcare provision and catering facilities.
Around-the-clock security will be in place on board “to minimise the disruption to local communities”, the Home Office added.
The Bibby Stockholm will be in operation in Portland for at least 18 months and the Home Office is in discussion with other ports with the aim of deploying more vessels.
Liverpool-based operator Bibby Marine Limited says the 93-metre-long barge has been refurbished since it was described as an “oppressive environment” used for asylum seekers in the Netherlands.
Human rights organisations criticised the “cruelty” of “confining” hundreds of vulnerable people on a barge, as they blamed the Government for creating the backlog of asylum claims.
Around 51,000 asylum seekers are currently in temporary accommodation such as hotels as the Government tackles a backlog of claims.
But Spencer Flower, the Tory leader of Dorset Council said the authority remains opposed to the plan and said the Home Office has failed to answer questions about the scheme.
According to The Times, the Portland Port has looked to deter anti-migrant demonstrations, which are expected in protest at the barge’s presence, from targeting the arrival of tourists coming into the area on cruise ships.
The newspaper said the south Dorset harbour usually advertises the arrival and departure dates on its website of the 40 or more cruises set to dock at the port during the year.
But The Times said that, after criticism of its plans to allow the Bibby Stockholm to moor in its waters, the port’s website has removed the dates.
The media outlet cited a source involved in the planning as saying the dates were taken down because of concerns that far-right activists could organise anti-migrant protests on days when thousands of tourists are due to arrive on cruise ships.
A Portland Port spokesman, when asked about the report, said: “All cruise calls are proceeding as normal at Portland Port but arrivals and departures are subject to change, as they are at any port.
“Therefore, it is best to contact the cruise line involved for the most up-to-date information.”
Dorset police and crime commissioner (PCC) David Sidwick has demanded answers from the Home Secretary about funding for the extra policing that will be required.
The Tory PCC said Dorset Police have started “the necessary and detailed planning required to ensure both asylum seekers and residents will be kept safe”.
“Currently though, they also have detailed questions that need answering and that are necessary to ensure the safety of all concerned,” he said.
The Home Office has not set out the cost of the lease agreement for the vessel that will be docked at Portland Port, but estimates have put the overall price tag of the charter and the berthing at more than £20,000 a day.
The Home Office has defended the plan, which is part of a series of schemes aimed at moving asylum seekers away from costly hotel accommodation.
A spokesman 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.”
Portland Port’s chief executive Bill Reeves said asylum seekers will be given advice about “cultural sensitivities and behaviour” before being housed on the barge.
“We understand that there are genuine concerns about the arrival of the accommodation facility for refugees at Portland,” he said.
“We wish to reassure local people that a great deal of effort and co-ordination is being carried out in relation to such issues as security, policing, health provision and other matters.”
Mr Reeves said concerns about crime and anti-social behaviour have “proven to be unfounded” at other accommodation sites “and there is no reason to expect any different here”.
He added: “I cannot think why people who have travelled thousands of miles and have risked their lives to get here would do anything to run the risk of their asylum claim being denied and them being deported.”