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First migrants to board Bibby Stockholm today as minister assures LBC 'it is a safe place'
7 August 2023, 09:03 | Updated: 8 August 2023, 06:11
Nick Ferrari presses Safeguarding Minister on fines for those supporting illegal migrants
A Conservative minister said the Bibby Stockholm barge was a "safe place" for asylum seekers to be housed after it was put to her that safety checks had caused their arrival on the vessel to be delayed.
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Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast Home Office Minister Sarah Dines said: "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."
Pressed on why ministers were withholding the arrival date for security reasons, Ms Dines said: "I'm not sure whether it is really important whether it is today, tomorrow or within a couple of days but it is imminent."
Around 50 people are expected to be in the first group of migrants to board the vessel docked in Portland Port, Dorset, despite local opposition.
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.
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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.