Government’s ‘inhumane’ plan to house asylum seekers in barge on Merseyside axed following local campaigning

The proposal to place hundreds of people seeking asylum in Britain on a vessel in Birkenhead will no longer go ahead.

Birkenhead Docks

The plan was reportedly rejected by Peel Ports, which operate Wirral Waters, a £4.5bn waterfront regeneration project in Birkenhead. Peel had previously said it would go ahead with the plans if it had full engagement with the local council.

500 asylum seekers were going to be housed on the barge, which was one of at least seven vessels to be used in the same manner in Britain.

The plan was condemned by opposition politicians and protestors. In a joint statement, Mick Whitley, Angela Eagle and Margaret Greenwood, MPs for Birkenhead, Wallasey, and Wirral West, said that the country owes a ‘duty of care towards those who come to the UK fleeing conflict and persecution.’

“Instead, this government is abandoning its responsibilities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of people claiming asylum in the UK. Government policy is now being driven by a sense of wanton cruelty without any intention of trying to secure positive outcomes for those involved,” said the MPs.

Joining the opposition were local campaign groups. On June 6, protestors from Asylum Matters, Asylum Link Merseyside, and Heart4Refugees, gathered outside the Titanic Hotel in Liverpool, demanding the plans were stopped. The protestors described the proposal as a ‘prison ship,’ as well as ‘inhumane and workable.’

“All our communities welcome people seeking asylum from war and persecution but everybody can see it’s a terrible idea. There isn’t anybody who thinks this isn’t a terrible idea apart from the government and the government should be protecting not punishing people who are seeking safety,” said Julia Savage from Asylum Matters.

In light of the local opposition, Peel rejected the plans, which means they have now been scrapped. In response to the axing of the barge proposal, Paul Stuart, Wirral Council leader said there had been a ‘team effort’ to oppose what he described as an ‘inhumane proposal.’

The councillor described how the Home Office had failed to research the site properly, proposing to install a vessel that was too large for the docks in Birkenhead

Responding to the news that Peel had axed the barge plan, Alison McGovern, Labour MP for Wirral South, said: “Good. And we need action to clear the backlog, proper support for refugees, and for the Home Office to work with local authorities, not against them.”

The axing of the barge plan in Merseyside comes as Rishi Sunak says two more vessels will be used to house around 1,000 asylum seekers. The Prime Minister declined to say where they will be moored. The announcement was met with a furious reaction from charities, opposition parties and some Tories. Conservative MP Richard Drax, described it as being “nothing more than a quasi-prison.”

He told LBC: “They’ve got £9 a week to spend – which isn’t much money – what happens if they disappear? None of these questions have been answered.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Birkenhead Docks – YouTube screen grab

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