UK: Refugees housed on barge

The British government is continuing its tough course against refugees: now the first ones have been housed on a ship.

The UK government has started housing asylum seekers on a three-story barge off the coast. As several media reported, the first men arrived at the port of the southern English city of Portland on Monday. There, several people protested against the anchorage of the ship called “Bibby Stockholm”, others against the conservative government’s asylum policy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to deter migrants with drastic laws. Anyone who enters the country without permission is arrested, is to be deported as soon as possible and may no longer apply for asylum in Great Britain – regardless of their personal circumstances. The number of people who entered the country irregularly rose to 45,000 last year, although conservative forces had announced that Brexit would reduce migration. However, since then there has been no readmission agreement with the EU.

After all, 500 men between the ages of 18 and 65 are said to be waiting on board for the outcome of their asylum procedure. With this measure, Sunak wants to both solve a space problem when accommodating migrants and avoid high costs from hotel rooms. The government plans to deploy more similar barges. “The government believes it is right to find alternatives (to current housing) that are cheaper and more cost-effective,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told journalists. “We think this is an alternative.”

capacity has been increased

“It seems that this government will do everything it can to make asylum seekers feel unwelcome and unsafe in this country,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds of the human rights organization Amnesty International. He warned of a “retraumatization” of refugees who have escaped war and displacement. “There should be great concern about confining each person to living quarters the typical size of a car park,” Valdez-Symonds said. The refugee aid Care4Calais announced that objections from lawyers had prevented several asylum seekers from having to board.

The “Bibby Stockholm” was last used as a floating accommodation for oil workers. In the mid-1990s, she also accommodated asylum seekers and homeless people in Hamburg. At that time it was designed for about 200 inmates. As the BBC reported, the capacity has now been increased to 500 with the help of bunk beds. The fire brigade union therefore warned of risks.

As a deterrent, the government also announced that it would significantly increase fines for companies and landlords that employ or house irregular migrants. Undeclared work and illegal rentals are major attractions for people who mostly cross the English Channel in small boats. Fines are set to increase from £15,000 to £45,000 (€52,000) per illegally employed worker. Homeowners should pay £10,000 per unauthorized tenant instead of £1,000.