Life on board Bibby Stockholm: Migrants compare barge to Alcatraz while others say it is 'good'

9 August 2023, 05:39 | Updated: 9 August 2023, 08:09

One migrant compared the Bibby Stockholm to Alcatraz
One migrant compared the Bibby Stockholm to Alcatraz. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Migrants' opinions on the Bibby Stockholm barge they have moved onto is split, with some comparing the vessel to a notorious prison, and others calling it "good".

The first set of migrants has been moved onto the barge, which has room for 500 people and is moored off Portland in Dorset.

The transfer of migrants onto the vessel has been mired in difficulty and delays in recent weeks amid safety concerns, local opposition and legal challenges.

An Afghan asylum seeker who moved onto the barge this week compared the Bibby Stockholm to Alcatraz, the famous prison on an island off the coast of San Francisco.

"My roommate panicked in the middle of the night and felt like he was drowning," he said. "There are people among us who have been given heavy drugs for depression by the doctor here."

Read more: Downing Street backs unrepentant Lee Anderson as he refuses to apologise for migrant comments

Read more: Charity lawyers ‘block’ transfer of 20 migrants onto Bibby Stockholm as barge labelled ‘inhumane’ amid first boarding

The Bibby Stockholm
The Bibby Stockholm. Picture: Getty

The unnamed asylum seeker also said that his room was too small.

And a Syrian man said the size of the rooms reminded him of fleeing from ISIS.

He told Sky: "We are all running away from war, trauma and conflict.

"We're looking for more space so if you put me and squeeze me into a smaller place, you are putting me back into that small room where I was hiding when ISIS were attacking our area.

"So it just reminded me again that we are in a two metre by two metre room and ISIS troops are around and you have to hide."

Migrants boarding the barge
Migrants boarding the barge. Picture: Alamy

But others had a more positive first impression.

One man told The Sun: said: "It's OK, I like it." Another man, from Algeria, told the newspaper: "It’s good. It’s normal. Food was good. Bed was good."

The first group of 15 migrants boarded the controversial barge on Monday, which is moored in Dorset.

However it emerged that some 20 migrants did not board the housing barge after their transfers were "cancelled" by refugee charity lawyers.

The Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said those unhappy with the Bibby Stockholm should “f*** off back to France”, and refused to apologise for his comments about migrants on Tuesday evening.

The barge has 24/7 security
The barge has 24/7 security. Picture: Getty

Speaking in an interview the MP for Ashfield doubled down on his remarks, as he said: “Like I say: if it’s not good enough, then they should go back to France, in stronger words.”

Justice secretary Alex Chalk defended Mr Anderson’s comments on Tuesday, as he said the MP’s comments contain “a lot of sense”.

Mr Chalk told LBC: "Lee Anderson expresses the righteous indignation of the British people. Yes, he does it in salty terms, that's his style, but his indignation is well placed."

Downing Street has since reiterated Mr Chalk's view, as a spokesperson for Number 10 said: “The justice secretary was speaking on behalf of the government. That is the response.”

Refugee charity lawyers 'blocked' some 20 migrants from boarding the barge on Monday.
Refugee charity lawyers 'blocked' some 20 migrants from boarding the barge on Monday. Picture: Alamy
The first group of migrants boarded the barge on Monday.
The first group of migrants boarded the barge on Monday. Picture: Alamy

Mr Anderson also hit out at the Labour Party on Tuesday evening, as he mocked the party’s lack of reaction and claimed “their silence is deafening”.

He said: “The left wing mainstream media has gone into meltdown over my comments but, interestingly, I am yet to see one Labour front bench MP disagree with my comments.”

Roads Minister Richard Holden also defended the MP on Tuesday as he said he "understands" the language used by Mr Anderson.

Speaking to LBC’s Ben Kentish, Mr Holden said: “It’s the sort of language I’d hear from my constituents on the doorstop, in fact sometimes, it’s stronger language than that. I think, it’s not language that I would specifically use.”

When pressed on whether the explicit language used by Mr Anderson was acceptable for a senior Tory MP, Mr Holden replied: “Lee will express himself in his own inimitable style, and I think we need to be careful about this, if we start to try and police people’s language when this is a really serious issue.

He continued: “If people are coming to this UK illegally then they shouldn’t be here.”

“There are plenty of safe countries that people will have travelled through to get here, and people will quite rightly understand the language that Lee Anderson and others have used in this space, because it reflects the real frustration that people have.”

Read more: 'I like it': First migrant to leave Bibby Stockholm gives verdict on what life is like on floating barge

Read more: Migrants who refuse to board Bibby Stockholm barge 'face losing government support'

Read more: 'We will punish and disgrace rogue lawyers who help small boat migrants lie to stay in UK', justice secretary vows

Shelagh Fogarty: Rishi Sunak should sack Lee Anderson

The Government has said the barge, which was initially designed to fit about 200 people, has a 500-person capacity.

Labour’s Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, hit out at Mr Anderson’s comments on Tuesday as he accused the government of stoking "division and hate”.

He said in a tweet: "Language matters. This lot have been in Government for 13 years. After their abject failure all that's left is stoking up more division and hate. We deserve so much better."

While the Liberal Democrats’ spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, criticised Mr Chalk’s defence of the comments.

He said: "Alex Chalk's toe-curling interview was yet another sign of how weak this Government has become.

"Lifelong Conservative voters expect decent and respectful political debate, something completely lacking amongst Conservative MPs.

"People in Blue Wall Cheltenham would have been spitting out their cornflakes listening to Alex Chalk this morning,” he continued.

Former shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott also said: “A new low even for the Tories.”

Despite the backlash faced by Mr Anderson, he doubled down on his remarks, as he replied to Ms Abbott’s tweet: "Wrong again... I told illegal migrants to go back to France, not genuine asylum seekers.”

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