Treatment of asylum seekers slammed as they board Bibby Stockholm barge

A "dark day for our country"

Barge to house asylum seekers arrives in UK waters

Described as a ‘quasi-floating prison’ and flagged as a ‘potential deathtrap’, the Bibby Stockholm barge has now been boarded by the first asylum seekers amongst widespread outrage over conditions.

Originally built to hold 222 passengers, the government are expecting more than 500 refugees to be held in the off-shore facility that’s moored in Portland, Dorset.

The Fire Brigades Union raised alarm over health and safety concerns on the vessel, as the union described the plan as a ‘cruel and reckless approach to the welfare of asylum seekers’ which could put both refugee and firefighter lives at risk. Whilst warnings have been made over disease outbreaks on the boat, as an FOI request found the local NHS service had drafted out an outbreak management plan in case of a disease outbreak which would see many infected.

Further concerns about the lack of freedom of movement on the barge and for the mental health of vulnerable people with conditions like PTSD have been highlighted by the charity Migrant Organise. With a large surrounding fence and barbed wire, 24-hour patrolling security and facilities that were not built to contain the number of people the Home Office hopes to hold, Migrant Organise said the conditions seemed designed to, ‘make life miserable for vulnerable people’ and create a ‘floating prison’.

Right wing Tory rhetoric surrounding the barge seems to have ‘hit a new low even for the Tories’ said Diane Abbott, as MP Lee Anderson told illegal migrants to ‘f** off back to France’ if they don’t like barges. As Justice Secretary Alex Chalk then seemed to defend Anderson’s language in interviews this morning, saying Anderson’s ‘indignation is well placed’ reflecting a terrifying Party line, as social media has compared the language used by Tory MPs demonising refugees to that used by the National Front.

It came as reports found that disabled asylum seekers, torture victims and migrants who have suffered ‘traumatic experiences at sea’ are among those who the Home Office are attempting to board on the barge. Steve Smith, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais commented: “To house any human being in a ‘quasi-floating prison’ like the Bibby Stockholm is inhumane. To try and do so with this group of people is unbelievably cruel.”

Furthermore, the Women’s Equality Party blasted the barge as ‘not safe for anyone’ and that it was: “indefensible that the government has tried to board victims of torture and modern slavery, as well as disabled people. The government attempted to board people against their own guidance on the very first day.”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has come out to blast the barge, saying the government’s ‘inhumane and unworkable’ plan ‘beggars belief’.

“I think the idea of offshoring our obligations to asylum seekers and refugees are inhumane and unworkable,” said Khan.

“The idea that you would put vulnerable people on a barge, often offshore where there’s not any community services just beggars belief.”

He added it is: “Demonising some of the most vulnerable people who’ve ever lived.”

MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy slammed the move: “The people being loaded onto the Bibby Stockholm have fled some of the world’s worst horrors. Warehousing them on this floating firetrap is a disgraceful way to treat human beings.”

As she called it a ‘dark day for our country’.

Local activists came out to greet the first 15 asylum seekers who arrived at the port on Monday. Among them were trade unions and campaigners from Stand Up to Racism holding ‘refugees welcome’ placards as well giving out welcome parcels.  

Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward

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