Tom Swarbrick 4pm - 6pm
Charity lawyers ‘block’ transfer of 20 migrants onto Bibby Stockholm as barge labelled ‘inhumane’ amid first boarding
7 August 2023, 21:29 | Updated: 8 August 2023, 00:22
Lawyers acting on behalf of a refugee charity blocked the transfer of around 20 asylum seekers onto the Bibby Stockholm when the first group boarded the barge on Monday.
Listen to this article
Care4Calais has said that some 20 migrants who were due to board the vessel on Monday were prevented from doing so after charity lawyers made legal representations to block them.
In legal letters to the Home Office, solicitors raised concerns about the suitability of the accommodation for people with disabilities, mental and physical health problems as well as those who had fled torture and persecution, according to the refugee charity.
The charity chief executive Steve Smith told LBC: "These individuals are effectively kept away from sunlight, daylight, other than what comes through pretty limited windows. So in effect it’s close to being a detention facility for many who already would have been in detention facilities”.
He also said on Monday: “None of the asylum seekers we are supporting have gone to the Bibby Stockholm today as legal representatives have had their transfers cancelled.
“Amongst our clients are people who are disabled, who have survived torture and modern slavery and who have had traumatic experiences at sea. 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. Even just receiving the notices is causing them a great deal of anxiety.”
First migrants arrive Bibby Stockholm asylum barge after minister assures LBC 'it is a safe place'
The initial tranche of 15 people boarded the Bibby Stockholm on Monday which is moored in Portland, as they were seen dragging suitcases into the vessel.
The Government had expected up to 50 migrants to board - but this expectation was dashed by a series of legal challenges at the last minute.
They were greeted by campaigners on Monday who brought them welcome packs with toiletries and flowers, as well as a map of the area. They had to leave them with security to be handed over to the men.
Government plans to house asylum seekers aboard the vessel had been stalled amid legal challenges and fire safety concerns - but have now gotten underway.
Cheryl Avery, the Home Office's director for asylum accommodation said: “We have had a few challenges but this is part of an ongoing structured process to bring a cohort of up to 500 people on board."
The policy is a cornerstone of Rishi Sunak's promise to bring down the number of people arriving in the UK - and to deter those crossing the English Channel in small boats.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights director, also hit out at the plans on Monday, as he said: "It seems there's nothing this Government won't do to make people seeking asylum feel unwelcome and unsafe in this country.
"Reminiscent of the prison hulks from the Victorian era, the Bibby Stockholm is an utterly shameful way to house people who've fled terror, conflict and persecution."
As the policy is implemented for the first time, Home Office Minister Sarah Dines told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on Monday: "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."
Around 50 people are part of the first group of migrants to board the vessel despite local opposition in Dorset.
The Government is also considering reviving plans to fly people who arrive by unauthorised means 4,000 miles to Ascension Island, according to multiple reports.
The proposals to use the British Overseas Territory are apparently being considered by ministers and officials as a "plan B" if the Rwanda scheme fails.
Situated in the South Atlantic, the volcanic island could house an asylum processing centre as an attempt to reduce the number of small boats crossing the Channel.
The plans to remove asylum seekers who arrive by unauthorised means to Rwanda have been stalled by legal challenges that will end up in the Supreme Court.
The developments came during the Government's "small boats week" in which it is making a series of announcements on the issue that Rishi Sunak has promised to solve.
Fines for employers and landlords who allow people who arrive by irregular means to work for them or live in their properties are to be hugely increased.
Andrew Castle challenges the Immigration Minister over his order to remove asylum centre mural
Civil penalties for employers will be increased up to a maximum of £45,000 per worker for a first breach and £60,000 for repeat offenders, tripling both from the last increase in 2014.
Landlords face fines going from £1,000 per occupier to £10,000, with repeat breaches going from £3,000 to £20,000. Penalties relating to lodgers will also be hiked.
Over the weekend immigration minister Robert Jenrick offered a guarantee that the barge is a "safe facility" after the firefighters' union warned it is a "potential deathtrap", citing concerns including overcrowding and access to fire exits.
He said increasing the numbers on the barge to the capacity of around 500 is still the plan despite concerns from the Fire Brigades Union over the vessel initially designed to house about 200.