Government urged not to house LGBTQ+ refugees on ‘barbaric’ migrant barge

Bibby Stockholm migrant barge

An open letter, signed by 57 organisations and by activists, has called on the government not to house refugees on its “barbaric” barge, where – LGBTQ+ charities say – queer people will be particularly at risk of harm. 

Following a delay, Bibby Stockholm, the barge where the government plans to house 500 asylum seekers for at least 18 months, is expected to take in its first refugees early next month.

The vessel, which arrived at the Isle of Portland on the coast of Dorset last week, is part of prime minister Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman’s heavily criticised Illegal Migration Bill, which received royal assent on 20 July.

In response, organisations and campaigners, including the Refugee Council, and Asylum Matters and Refugee Action – on behalf of human rights campaigner Nicola David – have written to the owners of the barge, Bibby Marine, asking its chief executive, Nigel Quinn, to reconsider the company’s role in the scheme. 

The letter states that the barge constitutes quasi-detention, a term which refers to sites that replicate features found in immigration detention centres – such as surveillance, shared living quarters, lack of privacy, poor access to healthcare and isolation from the wider community. 

“We believe that containing people who have been through traumatising experiences, especially on a floating vessel, is cruel and inhumane,” the letter says, adding that a vessel is “entirely inappropriate for use in this way”. 

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The letter calls on Bibby Marine to withdraw from chartering vessels for the containment of migrants, acknowledge any historical connections with the slave trade and, should they exist, work to make amends by not containing people on the barge.

A view of the courtyard where fitness equipment will be installed onboard the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge
The Bibby Stockholm barge has been likened to quasi-detention. (Andrew Matthews – Pool/ Getty Images)

LGBTQ+ organisation, Micro Rainbow and Rainbow Migration have aired their support for the letter, saying they “firmly condemn this government’s barbaric proposal to house people seeking asylum on barges”. 

The “prison-like” conditions pose the risk of “further traumatising people – especially queer people – who are seeking safety and protection”, the activists claim. 

“We know that LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum are particularly at risk of harm and can face serious issues when forced to live in overcrowded conditions like in detention, they are likely to experience discrimination and harassment from other people seeking asylum who can hold LGBTQI-phobic views.

“Trans people can be at even greater risk of abuse and may be forced to hide their gender identity.” 

The organisations have joined the signatories of the open letter in calling on the government to commit to the “safeguarding of LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum”, and to demand a guarantee that they won’t be housed on barges.

Devised to stop small-boats crossing the English Channel, the Illegal Migration Act has come under intense scrutiny for its potential to send LGBTQ+ refugees to countries with poor track records on LGBTQ+ rights, where they could face persecution.

All adults who arrive in the UK via the Channel or in the back of a lorry will be detained for 28 days. They will subsequently be sent back to their country of origin or to other countries such as Rwanda.

The 222-bedroom, three-storey barge, which will house people who are currently staying in hotels, will initially hold 50 single men, according to Sky News.

The government has reportedly handed Dorset Council £2m in funding to provide services to residents, while it continues to find former military bases to also house asylum seekers.