What We Know About Home Office Plans To House Asylum Seekers On Boats
The Bibby Stockholm will be used to house asylum seekers, the Home Office confirmed today (Home Office)
The government has confirmed plans to house 500 asylum seekers on a barge off the Dorset coast, with people to be moved on to the vessel in “the coming months”.
The Bibby Stockholm will be stationed in Portland Port, Dorset for at least 18 months, the Home Office has now confirmed following speculation that the location could be used.
The government say it will provide “basic and functional” accommodation to adult male asylum seekers while their claims are processed.
The plans are part of the government’s attempts to reduce spending on hotels for asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their claim, or removal from the country. Use of floating accommodation also aims to discourage people from crossing the Channel in small boats. But the proposals have attracted criticism from human rights groups and local figures.
Here is everything we know about the plans so far:
What is the government’s policy?
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to stop asylum seekers illegally crossing the Channel in small boats as one of his "five pledges" for delivery in government.
He is also keen to reduce the amount being spent on housing asylum seekers in hotels, which the Home Office say is currently costing around £6m a day. The use of the new barge aims to address this issue specifically, as government says it will be less expensive to hold 500 new asylum seekers here than in hotels, although existing use of hotels will continue.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said that the plan aims to “save the British taxpayer money and to prevent the UK becoming a magnet for asylum shoppers in Europe”.
“The Home Secretary and I have been clear that the use of expensive hotels to house those making unnecessary and dangerous journeys must stop," he said in a statement confirming the boat's location.
“We will not elevate the interests of illegal migrants over the British people we are elected to serve.”
Jenrick also said that accommodation will meet legal obligations and officials will “work closely” with community figures to address concerns.
Will there be any other boats or sites?
While only the site in Dorset has been confirmed so far, the government has said that the Home Office is in discussions with other ports and that “further vessels will be announced in due course”.
Last week it was announced that ex-military bases will also be used as accommodation. It has previously been reported that RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire and Wethersfield air base are being lined up.
Local councils in those areas have already suggested that they are considering legal action to stop the sites being used in this way.
How are these plans being received?
South Dorset Conservative MP Richard Drax had previously said that he believes the plans would be “cause for trouble”.
He told ITV News on Tuesday, before the initial announcement, that there are “a lot of ‘don’t knows".
“There are so many questions we don't have answers to. I think the location is going to be cause for trouble,” he said.
"I have sympathy for the government, I have sympathy for the asylum seekers and I have sympathy for everyone here.
"It is a major issue, there's only one solution as I see it longer term – that is to build properly resourced reception centres.”
Dorset Council has said that they “still have serious reservations” about the proposals and they “remain opposed” now the location has been confirmed, having previously objected to the speculation.
“The council will continue to support and acknowledge the concerns of our residents and local businesses,” they said in a statement this afternoon.
“There are a number of questions which the Home Secretary’s announcement does not address, we will continue to press the Home Office for answers and await further information.”
Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that the announcement is "a sign of the Conservatives' total failure to clear the asylum backlog".
"This barge is in addition to hotels, not instead of them and is still more than twice as expensive as normal asylum accommodation. It will house just 0.3 per cent of the current Tory backlog which has sky-rocketed and is continuing to grow under the Conservatives," she added.
There is also significant criticism from human rights organisations, including the charity Amnesty International UK, which described the move as “political theatre”.
“Along with the disastrous Rwanda scheme, all talk of barges, cruise ships and former military barracks should be abandoned,” Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director said.
“Anyone seeking asylum in this country should be housed in decent accommodation with proper facilities and, crucially, their claims should be properly and consistently processed.
“Everything that’s gone wrong in the government’s handling of the asylum system can be traced back to a deliberate move by ministers to slow or even shut down the asylum decision-making process, then blaming the victims of this decision for its cost to justify further hardline and reckless policies."
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