Furore over UK plans to house asylum seeker on a barge
Plans by the UK Government to house asylum seekers on a floating barge has sparked outrage among rights groups.
The UK announced plans to house around 500 asylum seekers on the barge, as the government seeks to cut costs and deter more arrivals crossing the English Channel.
Following his pledge to stop the small boats used by tens of thousands of migrants each year to make the treacherous trip, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the barge would save money and reduce pressure on hotels.
But advocacy group Refugee Council said the barge will be “completely inadequate” for “vulnerable people who have come to our country in search of safety having fled beatings and death threats in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran”.
And even on Mr Sunak’s own MPs says the asylum seekers will have less living space than an average parking bay.
Richard Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, near where the barge will be moored, said that packing asylum seekers in so densely would “exacerbate the potential for trouble hugely”.
The UK’s Conservative government has already put forth a plan to outlaw asylum claims by all illegal arrivals and transfer them to third countries, including Rwanda.
The barge that will be berthed in Portland Port, the ‘Bibby Stockholm’, is the first of its kind in the UK and will accommodate single men while their asylum claims are processed, with the first residents due in the coming months.
But in just one recent week, more than 1100 migrants crossed the English Channel – more than double the capacity of the barge
“We’re bringing forward alternative sites, like indeed the barge that we’ve announced today, that will save us money and indeed reduce pressure on hotels,” Mr Sunak said.
He said the government could not continue to spend six million pounds a day on hotels for asylum seekers.
The barge, which is to be operational for at least 18 months, will provide basic accommodation and healthcare, catering facilities and round-the-clock security.
It was previously used by the Netherlands and Germany to house asylum seekers.
Residents whose claims are refused and have exhausted their appeal rights will be removed from the country, the UK government said.
The UK’s Home Office, which is exploring the use of further vessels, said the move “brings the UK in line with other countries around Europe”, with the Netherlands also housing migrants on vessels.
Mr Sunak has vowed to stop the Channel crossing which saw more than 45,000 people arrive last year.
He unveiled legislation last month to stop migrants illegally making the treacherous journey on small boats.
The British government also announced that surplus military sites will also be used to accommodate migrants who have entered the UK ‘illegally’.
Almost 88,000 people have made the crossing of one of the world’s busiest waterways since 2018, leading the country’s asylum system to become overloaded.
More than 160,000 people were awaiting an asylum decision as of the end of December 2022, with most having waited more than six months, according to official figures.