Asylum seeker torture survivor says legionella-hit Bibby Stockholm reminds him of unsanitary ‘refugee camp’

12 August 2023, 09:08 | Updated: 12 August 2023, 09:19

Kolbassia Haoussou hit out at the conditions on board the  Bibby Stockholm barge
Kolbassia Haoussou hit out at the conditions on board the Bibby Stockholm barge. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Kit Heren

A man who escaped torture in the country of his birth to come to the UK has said the dangerous bacteria discovery onboard the Bibby Stockholm barge reminds him of his time in a refugee camp.

Kolbassia Haoussou, who came to the UK from the African country of Chad in 2005, also said that the barge should not have been used to house migrants in the first place.

The 39 migrants on board the housing barge have been moved back to hotels after they were evacuated from the vessel on Friday following the discovery of Legionella.

None are thought to be ill, but the barge itself may be out of commission for weeks while the problem is fixed.

Senior Conservative MPs have labelled the affair a "farce". Mr Haoussou, the co-founder and co-ordinator of Survivors Speak Out, an activist network for victims of torture, said the episode reminded him "straight away" of his time in a refugee camp.

He told LBC's Andrew Castle: "You know the bacteria - those things happen really in a refugee camp, where there is no [proper sanitation]."

Mr Haoussou added: "I’m also really relieved that nobody is on it right now. At the same time, we should not put people on that in the first place."

Kolbassia Haoussou MBE shares his thoughts on Bibby Stockholm

It comes just five days after the first group of asylum seekers moved onto the barge following a series of delays.

Senior MPs have now questioned why the group of 39 migrants was allowed to board before the test results had been returned.

“Small boats week has turned into Carry On Up the Channel week,” one senior Tory said.

“This is deeply troubling, and rapidly turning into a farce that the Home Office can ill afford,” former minister Tim Loughton said.

He continued: “Given the importance of the project, it was important that every risk assessment was performed before the people were put on the barge. Given the delays, there are serious questions as to why they were not done and what comeback there is on the contractors or whoever is responsible for signing it off for habitation.”

Another MP said the incident was an “embarrassment” and signalled “incompetence”.

Reports suggest that Home Office officials were told about the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water on Wednesday.

But despite this, six more migrants were transferred onto the barge the following day.

All 39 migrants were moved off the barge on Friday.
All 39 migrants were moved off the barge on Friday. Picture: Alamy

Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires' disease, a lung infection that causes flu-like symptoms, coughs, chest pain and shortness of breath.

In extreme cases, it can lead to people coughing up blood.

None of the people on board have shown any symptoms yet, but they have used the water supply.

Ministers were later informed by the UK Health Security Agency on Thursday evening about the bacteria discovery and were advised to remove the six newly boarded migrants from the floating accommodation.

However, the Home Office announced on Friday all 39 migrants would be relocated as a “further temporary precaution”.

It is understood that the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, and Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, were first informed of the bacteria’s presence on Thursday.

A Home Office spokesperson said on Friday: "As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken.

"No individuals on board have presented with symptoms of Legionnaires', and asylum seekers are being provided with appropriate advice and support.

"The samples taken relate only to the water system on the vessel itself and therefore carry no direct risk indication for the wider community of Portland nor do they relate to fresh water entering the vessel. Legionnaires' disease does not spread from person to person."

Read more: Migrants moved off Bibby Stockholm just days after boarding as Legionella bacteria found in the water

Read more: More than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Channel in small boats since records began five years ago

Shadow Immigration Minister: "That barge is a floating symbol of Tory incompetence and failure."

It is believed the migrants on board have now been relocated to hotels around a two-hour drive from Portland, where the vessel is moored, according to The Telegraph.

It could take weeks before the pipes are free of the bacteria and new checks are carried out.

Speaking to LBC’s Ben Kentish on Friday, Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock said that the Bibby Stockholm barge was a “floating symbol of Tory incompetence and failure”.

Continuing, MP Stephen Kinnock stated how Labour would “scrap the unworkable, unethical and unaffordable Rwanda plan” if elected, adding they would channel the funds into improving the National Crime Agency.

Mr Kinnock added that if elected as Prime Minister, Keir Starmer would show “respect” to the EU to secure a migrants return deal.

It comes just days after Tory minister Sarah Dines insisted to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "It is a safe place for people to live and stay.

"It is a very complex situation. Let us just be clear that the Government is determined to use barges such as this one to make sure we have somewhere which is proper - rudimentary but proper - accommodation for migrants."

Migrants are being housed on the barge as part of government plans to grapple with soaring levels of small boat arrivals in the UK.

It is designed to be cheaper than paying for hotels across the country, which has proved controversial with some communities and even led to some being targeted by protesters.

More than 100,000 people have now crossed the Channel since records began in 2018.