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First 15 migrants board Bibby Stockholm: Flanked by police single men move onto the controversial barge
7 August 2023, 14:48 | Updated: 8 August 2023, 06:13
The first group of migrants have boarded the Bibby Stockholm as the controversial barge begins operating as housing for asylum seekers.
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The initial tranche of 15 people have begun boarding the barge which is moored in Portland, as they were seen dragging suitcases into the vessel.
The Government had expected up to 50 migrants to board the Bibby Stockholm - but this expectation was dashed by a series of legal challenges at the last minute.
They were greeted by campaigners 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.
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.
First migrants arrive Bibby Stockholm asylum barge after minister assures LBC 'it is a safe place'
As the policy is implemented for the first time, Home Office Minister Sarah Dines told 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."
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.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the Bibby Stockholm will accept its first occupants "in the coming days".
The Home Office did nothing to dampen suggestions the arrivals could come on Monday. Various expected dates have been given and then missed in the past, however.
Mr Jenrick offered a guarantee that it is a "safe facility" after the firefighters' union warned it is a "potential deathtrap", citing concerns including overcrowding and access to fire exits.
"We hope that the first migrants will go on to the boat in the coming days, I'm not going to give you an exact date - but very soon," he told Sky News.
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.