Barge for 500 migrants arrives in Falmouth for refit

Bibby Stockholm

A giant barge that will house migrants off the UK coast has arrived in Falmouth for a refit, taking its capacity from 222 to 506 people. The Bibby Stockholm, which was towed from its former berth in Italy to the UK south coast, will later will be moved to its final destination of Portland in Dorset.

It’s reported that people will not be moved onto the vessel until July, while safety checks and other works are carried out. 

The Bibby Stockholm is a 91-metre barge with three decks and 222 bedrooms. The barge will provide ‘basic and functional accommodation’ as well as healthcare and catering facilities, according to the Home Office.

Bibby Stockholm has previously been used elsewhere in Europe to accommodate asylum seekers. In 2005, a watchdog called it an “oppressive environment” when the Dutch government used it to house 500 asylum seekers. At least one person died on board and there were reports of rape and abuse during this prriod. 

The vessel’s operators, Liverpool-based Bibby Marine, says the ship has since been refurbished. It says the vessel now offers amenities including en suite bathrooms and a gym. With 222 “single en suite bathrooms” on board, there will be at least two people per cabin to accomodate the aim of holding 506 people. 

The private operators of the port struck an controversial agreement to host the barge with the Home Office without formal public consultation. This has provoked anger among local residents and council officials in Portland.

The Conservative MP Richard Drax has told media he is considering legal action to prevent the government from docking the barge at Portland. 

The Dorset Council has said it has “serious reservations about the appropriateness of Portland Port in this scenario and remains opposed to the proposals” but will fulfill its statutory obligations. 

The vessel is expected to remain in port for around 18 months.

In a statement, Portland Port said it believed concerns about crime and antisocial behaviour had proven “to be unfounded” at accommodation sites elsewhere.

Bill Reeves, the port’s chief executive, adds: “We understand that there are genuine concerns about the arrival of the accommodation facility for refugees at Portland.

“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.”

The government has come under increased pressure from Tory backbenchers to find an alternative solution to housing migrants in hotels. Around 400 hotels are currently used to house around 51,000 asylum seekers nationally, at a reported daily cost of £6.2m.

However, Bloomberg reports that a 2022 home office document warned detaining asylum seekers on cruise ships and barges could end up being more expensive than housing them in hotels.

Reeves adds: “Portland Port strongly believes that providing berthing space for the refugees’ accommodation is the right thing to do.

“There is a strong incentive for the refugees to be law-abiding because they are in the latter stages of their asylum assessment. They have no greater ambition than to be accepted in the UK after fleeing sometimes horrific situations.

“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.”

The Home Office said it was in discussion with other ports and further barges would be announced ‘in due course’. 

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