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Britain to return asylum seekers to Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge

UPI
Up to 50 asylum seekers being accommodated in hotels in Britain have been notified by the Home Office that they are being sent back to an accommodation barge moored on the country's south coast two months after the vessel was evacuated due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria aboard. File Photo by EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL

Oct. 10 (UPI) -- British authorities told asylum seekers they will be returned to an accommodation barge moored on the country's south coast two months after the vessel was evacuated due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria aboard.

The men began receiving letters Monday notifying them that they will be compulsorily moved back onto the 10,000 ton Bibby Stockholm, moored in Portland in Dorset, next week "following the vessel completing all necessary tests," the Home Office said.

"The letters confirm the next steps for asylum seekers and reiterate that all asylum accommodation continues to be offered on a no-choice basis," said a spokesperson.

"Delivering alternative accommodation sites, such as the vessel, is more affordable for taxpayers and more manageable for communities, due to healthcare and catering facilities on site, 24/7 security and the purpose-built safe accommodation they provide."

The government launched the scheme in April as part of a strategy to "reduce the unsustainable pressure on the U.K.'s asylum system and cut the cost to the taxpayer caused by the significant increase in Channel crossings" with hotel accommodation for tens of thousands of asylum seekers running at $7.47 million a day.

The cost of hotel accommodations has now risen to $9.8 million a day.

At least three dozen men were re-located from hotel accommodation to the re-fitted oil and gas field accommodation barge Aug. 7 but were evacuated four days later after the Legionella bacteria, which can cause serious type of pneumonia, was discovered in the water system.

The 39 men have complained about living conditions on the barge which they have characterized as "prison-like" and stated that they do not wish to be sent back there.

Portland councilor Paul Kimber said he had been notified Monday that migrants were being informed they would be returned to the vessel.

"As you can imagine a lot of the so-called asylum seekers are very, very worried about going on board, with the water contamination," he said.

The Bibby Stockholm has been plagued with issues from the outset with delays completing the refit and moving it into position in Portland, protests by the local community and delays moving asylum seekers aboard due to a string of health and safety concerns.

The first batch of 50 men was due to be moved on board in the last week of July but the transfer was postponed to Aug. 1 as preparations were incomplete. That date was then also put back pending "final checks" amid reports of more serious issues with fire safety.

A report by The Times of London said there were concerns about the 222-cabin barge becoming a "floating Grenfell," referring to a 2017 apartment tower blaze in London in which 72 people were killed.