Lawyers block transfer of 20 asylum seekers onto Bibby Stockholm

Lawyers block transfer of 20 asylum seekers onto Bibby Stockholm at eleventh hour – as first arrivals board vessel with goodie bags of flowers, maps and shampoo

  • Care4Calais said representations by its lawyers stopped some of the transfers

A last-minute intervention by lawyers acting on behalf of a refugee charity has ‘cancelled’ the transfer of 20 asylum seekers onto the Bibby Stockholm as the first migrants boarded the barge today.

More than a dozen migrants arrived in Portland Port, Dorset, today as the government’s solution to its rocketing £6million-a-day hotel bill for new arrivals was put into action. It will eventually house 500 men aged 18 to 65 as they wait for their asylum applications to be processed.

Asylum seekers were transferred from hotels in Oxford, Bristol, Torbay and Bournemouth in a minibus with blacked-out windows and a blue coach, and were seen carrying suitcases and plastic laundry bags while being escorted onboard by staff in high-vis jackets.

Care4Calais later claimed that 20 of those who were due to be transferred did not do so as the charity’s lawyers made legal representations to block them, with its CEO branding the barge a ‘quasi floating prison’.

At the port campaigners brought flowers and welcome packs containing basic toiletries and other useful items, including a map of the area. But they were not able to give these directly to the migrants and had to leave them with security staff at the port gate.

Today, new figures showed the number of migrants staying in hotels has hit 50,000, a 25 per cent increase from 40,000 in December, when Rishi Sunak promised to end the placement of asylum seekers in hotels. 

Pictures showed men being escorted on to the barge by staff in high-vis jackets, while a coach was also seen arriving at the port

People are seen carrying rucksacks and plastic bags as they climb aboard the Bibby Stockholm this afternoon 

A blue coach was seen arriving at Portland Port this morning as campaigners gathered outside the gates

An aerial view of a blue coach arriving at Portland Port in Dorset on Monday morning

A coach arrives at the front gates as the Bibby Stockholm welcomes its first asylum seekers in Portland, Dorset, today

Police stand guard as a coach arrives at the front gates by Bibby Stockholm in Portland today

Campaigners brought bunches of flowers and welcome packs containing toiletries and other useful items to give them to asylum seekers arriving on the barge

The group were not able to give these directly to the migrants and had to leave them with security staff at the port gate

Some of the brown card bags containing bunches of flowers 

Workers in high-vis jackets were seen walking onto the vessel this morning 

The first migrants arrived on the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge today 

A police van arrives in the Port of Portland today prior to the arrival of the first asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm

Suella Braverman leaves home today 

The enormous three-storey barge is the length of a football pitch and has 222 en-suite bedrooms, a gym and a 24-hour canteen. Asylum seekers living onboard will take part in activities including cricket, cycling, tending allotments and going on guided hikes in the Dorset countryside. 

They will also take part in organised ‘cultural events’ and get free buses and taxis to enjoy local towns. Buses every hour from 7am to 11pm will ferry men to Weymouth, a nearby seaside resort with a beach, fishing boat fleet and marina.

If they miss the 11pm bus back to the barge, free taxis are available by phoning a special number. On top of free food, accommodation and transport, each migrant is given £9.58 a week pocket money.

Care4Calais chief executive Steve Smith said: ‘None of the asylum seekers we are supporting have gone to the Bibby Stockholm today as legal representatives have had their transfers cancelled.

READ MORE – Government’s Plan B for Channel migrants revealed: Arrivals could be sent to Ascension Island in South Atlantic

‘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.’

Today, Portland resident Ian Broadhurst got into a heated debate with the Stand Up To Racism campaigners asking why they were giving help to strangers instead of helping poverty-stricken islanders.

Mr Broadhurst, who does charity work with the local food bank and community fridge, said: ‘This isn’t being racist, this is saying we need to look after ourselves. We cannot afford them here when we can’t even look after our own people.’

Home Office minister Sarah Dines said the vessel – which previously housed oil and gas workers – would provide ‘basic but proper accommodation’ and that those who arrive in the UK by illegal means ‘can’t expect to stay in a four-star hotel’.  

She told the BBC this morning: ‘What it sends is a forceful message that there will be proper accommodation but not luxurious.

‘Luxurious hotel accommodation has been part of the pull, I’m afraid. There have been promises made abroad by the organised criminal gangs and organisations which have tried to get people into the country unlawfully and they say, ”You will be staying in a very nice hotel in the middle of a town in England”.

‘That needs to stop and the barge is just one of a wide range of other measures.’

The vessel’s previous capacity of 222 has been doubled to 500 by putting bunk beds in its cabins and converting some communal rooms into dormitories for four to six men.

Ms Dines said the barge would be in use ‘imminently’, despite a series of delays, and suggested it could house 500 asylum seekers by the end of the week.

She also confirmed ‘all possibilities’ for tackling the migrant crisis are being examined, following reports that the Government is considering reviving plans to fly people who arrive by unauthorised means 4,000 miles to Ascension Island.

Anti-Conservative party protesters gathered at the site in Dorset this morning 

Protesters holding up signs this morning, with one reading: ‘No more Grenfells, respect refugee lives’ 

A range of meals will be served from the barge’s canteen. Food is available 24 hours a day, including breakfast and a three-course lunch and dinner

Those on board the controversial barge can make the most of comfortable sofas in the TV room

While only a small number of migrants are expected to be housed on the barge at first, Ms Dines suggested it could increase rapidly to its capacity of around 500 men.

Pressed on whether all of them could be on board by the end of the week, Ms Dines said: ‘Yes, quite possibly it will be 500. We are hoping.’

But Downing Street appeared to suggest she had misspoken, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying that while ‘no limit’ had been set on how many people would board the barge this week, the Government’s plan was to reach the capacity ‘over time’, adding: ‘I don’t think we are aiming to do it by the weekend.’

READ MORE – Bosses who hire illegal migrants ‘face financial ruin’ with fines of £60,000 per employee 

The Home Office later clarified the total would be reached over a longer period of time and not by the end of the week.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, 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.

‘Housing people on a floating barge is likely to be re-traumatising and there should be major concerns about confining each person to living quarters the typical size of a car parking space.’

Some of the residents who are against the barge say they are disgusted with the Government for ignoring their concerns about public safety and the impact the migrants will have on already overstretched local resources.

It is believed Portland Port, a private enterprise, will receive £2.5million from the arrangement with the Home Office.

Dorset Council and NHS Dorset are also being paid £3million for laying on extra services, healthcare and activities for them. Money will also be spent on beefing CCTV in the area and paying for additional community safety officers.

Members of the Stand Up To Racism group, claimed that most asylum seekers don’t want to stay on the barge.

One member said: ‘Every asylum seeker who got in touch with Care4Calais and told them they didn’t want to go to the barge has successfully made a case.

‘There were nine in Bournemouth. They have been taken off the list but one has chosen to come.

‘They have been there at least four months, they’ve got support networks in Bournemouth, they’ve made a life there and they don’t know anything about Portland. One said he had seen some of the hate online and was very scared.’

A view inside the gym onboard the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge

A view inside one of the bedrooms on board the vessel, which previously housed oil and gas workers 

The barge is moored in the port of Portland on Dorset’s Jurassic coast 

Some 500 adult male migrants will be calling the barge their temporary home

The new arrivals will be given an ‘induction’ to help them understand ‘what is expected in the community’.

It is understood instructions on being ‘a good neighbour’ will include advice not to crowd together in large groups, not to carry weapons and to avoid entering children’s playgrounds. 

Onboard is a cross-Channel ferry-style canteen serving breakfast and a three-course lunch and dinner, although food will be available 24 hours a day. 

Breakfast choices include eggs, pancakes, bread and yoghurts; lunch options include potato soup, garlic chicken, Irish stew, and roast turkey with rice, and dinner choices include paella, fried fish and oriental chicken. Pictures show bottles of Ribena and Heinz tomato ketchup.

In the middle of the barge are two outdoor recreational areas, each about 80ft by 30ft, where there are plans to host ‘basketball, netball and volleyball’ matches.

There is a classroom for English language lessons, a computer room with free WiFi and a medical room with a nurse, and a GP on call. 

Concerns have been raised over fire safety arrangements on the barge, with only two main exits across the three decks. 

But Ms Dines insisted that 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.

Ms Dines told LBC: ‘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.’

Labour has repeatedly flip-flopped over its position on the barge, with shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock telling BBC Breakfast on Sunday that barges would continue to be used if his party won the next general election.   

But shadow international trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds was non-committal when repeatedly asked whether Labour supports the use of the Bibby Stockholm.

Bedrooms on board contain a wardrobe as well as a small desk, chair and television

The barge – moored in Portland – also offers a multifaith room 

A view of the doctor’s room onboard the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge

Asked if Labour supports the use of the barge, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We do not wish to run and will not run an asylum system that requires the use of bases, barges or indeed of hotels, those are being used as additional accommodation because of the failure of the Conservatives to run our asylum system properly over many years.’

On whether Labour supports people being moved onto the barge, he said: ‘Look, I am in favour of there being safe and secure accommodation. Now there have been some concerns raised by fire experts over this barge that it’s important that the Home Office address, I’m obviously not close enough to those conversations, I can’t individually say whether that safety standard has been met in every single case.’

Asked if he objects to the barge being used if safety standards have been met, he said: ‘Government has to place people in safe accommodation, that’s clear. In terms of where Labour would be, we’re not in Government today, much as I would like us to be.

‘Our position is we would get that backlog down. With respect, I’m not in Government today sitting there around that Cabinet table to be able to say individually which particular parts of this extra accommodation Government failure is necessitating is safe or unsafe, there have been concerns raised which the Home Office has to address.’

Professor Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has said its officials will visit the Bibby Stockholm barge ‘once the migrants are there to check out some of the infection prevention control’.

A security checkpoint onboard the vessel, as shown in a new report today

The barge has 222 cabins along narrow corridors

A classroom for English language lessons onboard the barge 

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The health of those on board is very much for the Home Office, when migrants enter the country they go into Home Office accommodation initially and then when they are moved to a local area that is a link with the local NHS, so my understanding is most of those initially at least going onto the Bibby Stockholm will actually have had a health assessment before they arrive there.

‘And we work very closely with the Home Office in anticipation, indeed we have on this particular event.’

The developments came during the Government’s ‘small boats week’, in which it is making a series of announcements on the issue that Prime Minister 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.

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 increased.

More than 15,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel, Government figures show.

Some 339 people made the journey on Friday and Saturday after an eight-day hiatus amid poor weather conditions at sea, taking the provisional total for 2023 to date to 15,071.

According to the Home Office, no crossings were recorded on Sunday.

It comes as Home Secretary Suella Braverman revealed Ascension Island could be used to house asylum seekers if the Rwanda plan falls through 

Meanwhile, news emerged that ministers are drawing up proposals to send Channel migrants to Ascension Island if the Rwanda scheme falters. 

As part of a radical ‘Plan B’, believed to be in its very early stages, illegal migrants would be transferred 4,000 miles to the British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic.

As a further fallback, up to five other countries – all believed to be in Africa – are in negotiations with the Home Office to take those who arrive in small boats or in the back of lorries under schemes similar to the deal with Kigali.

The number of small boat migrants to have arrived in Britain so far this year has topped 15,000, with more expected in the coming days as the weather improves.

Home Office ministers have yet to rule which back-up plan is the most likely option for development in the event of the Rwanda scheme being ultimately blocked, the Daily Mail understands.

The £140million agreement with Kigali was declared unlawful on human rights grounds by the Court of Appeal in June. Under the deal, Channel migrants and other irregular arrivals will be sent to the Rwandan capital to claim asylum there rather than here.

Although ministers are ‘confident’ the Supreme Court will side with them and overturn the ruling in October, the Home Office is devising a range of options in case the deal has to be ditched.

Because Ascension Island is British soil, it is hoped it would remove some of the legal difficulties involved in deporting migrants to a foreign state

A senior government source said: ‘We’re duty bound to cover all possibilities and so, as you’d expect, this Conservative Government is working on plans to stop the boats which would run in conjunction with Rwanda.

‘Alternatively other plans could be used if we’re frustrated legally on our relocation scheme, even though we are confident it is lawful and await the Supreme Court judgment.

‘This is the right and sensible thing to do – and it’s what our voters would expect of us.’

The development came after Home Secretary Suella Braverman told The Mail on Sunday yesterday that ‘all options were on the table’ if the Rwanda project is unable to proceed.

Because Ascension Island is British soil, it is hoped it would remove some of the legal difficulties involved in deporting migrants to a foreign state.

But proposals for a processing centre on Ascension pose huge logistical difficulties.

Illegal migrants would be transferred 4,000 miles to the British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic

Migrants would be sent to Ascension only for processing rather than on a one-way ticket, it is understood

The 34 square mile territory – which lies about 1,000 miles off the coast of sub-Saharan Africa – has no hospital and moving large numbers of migrants and staff there could overload existing power and water facilities. Migrants would be sent to Ascension only for processing rather than on a one-way ticket, it is understood.

Those who are granted asylum or humanitarian protection by the Home Office would be brought back to the UK. It is unclear what would happen to migrants whose claims are rejected.

The Home Office often faces insurmountable barriers when trying to remove failed asylum seekers, many of whom cannot be returned to their homeland. Other British Overseas Territories – including the Falkland Islands – were considered as possible locations for migrant processing before the Rwanda scheme was negotiated.

But in late 2021, the Falklands were ruled out on the grounds it would have been politically disastrous if they were portrayed as a ‘dumping ground’ after the 1982 war which cost more than 200 British lives. It is unclear if the Falklands or other territories are again being considered as alternatives to Rwanda.

Last month, the Home Office’s top civil servant Sir Matthew Rycroft revealed to MPs the department was working on other plans ‘in parallel’ with the Rwanda agreement.

The church of St Marys in Georgetown overlooks the airfield on Ascension Island 

Ascension Island is governed as part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (pictured: The Post Office in Georgetown, Ascension Island)

It was reported last year that before the Rwanda scheme was adopted, Britain was in advanced talks with Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria and Namibia over similar deals to receive asylum seekers from the UK.

It is not known if they now form part of the Rwanda ‘Plan B’ discussions.

READ MORE: Ascension Island – where the government is considering sending Channel migrants if the Rwanda scheme fails – is an unlovely lump of rock 1,000 miles from anywhere, writes NEIL DERBYSHIRE who has visited the tiny British possession

Niger was also approached previously but now seems an unlikely destination for migrants from Britain since last month’s military coup.

Separately, Home Office data showed Turkish arrivals were the second-largest nationality among Channel migrants last month. Out of 3,299 who arrived in July, there were 370 Turks, after 683 Afghans.

The trend has been caused by February’s devastating earthquake, which left more than 50,000 dead in the country.

The new figures also showed the ‘legacy backlog’ of asylum claims lodged before July last year – which Rishi Sunak has pledged to clear by the end of the year – has dropped to 62,157. It fell by about 8,000 cases in July.

A separate backlog of asylum claims lodged since last July increased by 6,415 to 74,622.

It means the total number of asylum claims awaiting a decision stands at 136,779 – a fall of 1,921 cases in a month.

At the end of June there were 117,450 asylum seekers receiving taxpayer-funded support, including 50,548 in hotels. This was up 5,156 from the end of March.

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