‘This is yet another example of an ill-thought-out, knee-jerk reaction to the government’s own backlog of asylum claims.’
Following a series of delays over safety concerns, the first small group of asylum seekers boarded the controversial Bibby Stockholm housing barge this week. It is intended that up to 500 men will live on the Dorset-moored vessel while they wait for their application for asylum to be decided.
Less than a week after entering the barge, all 39 asylum seekers were removed after traces of Legionella bacteria were found in the on-board water system. The Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires disease, a form of pneumonia.
Speaking to the BBC, one resident said the migrants had been transferred to a new hotel and had received a letter saying they will be moved back to the barge after a week.
Bibby Stockholm is the Home Office’s latest hostile policy towards refuges in the bid to reduce the cost of asylum accommodation and limit the number of small boat crossings.
Using a floating accommodation to house refugees has attracted widespread criticism from campaigners and activists, who fear it will isolate those seeking asylum further from British communities.
Amnesty International compared the vessel to ‘prison hulks’ from the Victorian era,’ saying it was an ‘utterly shameful way to house people who had fled terror, conflict and persecution.’
The Brigades Union (FBU) called the barge a “death trap,” while Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, warned that respiratory infections were more likely to spread in cramped spaces with narrow corridors and doorways.
“Generally respiratory infections, as we’ve all learnt through the pandemic … are at higher risk in confined settings with poorer ventilation, so the sorts of things we look at is what the ventilation is like,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Freedom from Torture, providers of therapeutic care for survivors of torture seeking protection in Britain, said the government should stop “forcing refugees to live in unsafe and undignified accommodation.”
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which helps people who are forced to flee their home by disaster and conflict, described Bibby Stockholm as a ‘fast becoming monument to the government’s failure to address the very real challenges at the root of the asylum system.’
Mark Nowottny, UK advocacy director at the IRC, said: “Housing asylum seekers in wholly unsuitable conditions will do nothing to cut the backlog of asylum cases, reduce dangerous Channel crossings, integrate refugees into our communities, or solve the housing shortages facing refugees and the British public alike.”
Instead, Nowottny said, the government should focus on pragmatic solutions, to “hear claims fairly, make decisions promptly, and invest the resources needed now to reduce costs in the medium-term.”
“The people at the heart of these policies – the majority of whom have fled violence, conflict and persecution and who go on to be recognised as refugees by the UK government – deserve to be treated with far greater dignity. Solutions that are compassionate and effective exist: the Bibby Stockholm is neither,” he told the Big Issue.
Steve Smith, CEO of refugee charity Care4Calais, said that the move to house refugees on the Bibby Stockholm was “causing a huge amount of anxiety.”
“Amongst those we are supporting are the survivors of torture, people with disabilities and people who have experienced trauma at sea. Housing any human on a ‘floating prison’ like the Bibby Stockholm is unacceptable. Doing so to people like this is completely inhumane. It is causing a huge amount of anxiety,” said Smith, adding:
“This is yet another example of an ill-thought-out, knee-jerk reaction to the government’s own backlog of asylum claims. If it had been properly planned, we wouldn’t be seeing last-minute, panicked activity to address the serious fire safety concerns that arise when trying to cram over 500 people into a boat built for just 220.”
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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