UK government threatens asylum seekers who refused to board ‘barbaric’ Bibby Stockholm barge

A view of the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, that will host up to 500 migrants, at Portland Port in England

The UK government has reportedly threatened to withdraw support for asylum seekers who do not board its controversial accommodation barge. 

A Sky News report found that about 20 people who were set to board the Bibby Stockholm, described as “barbaric” by opponents, on Monday (7 August) had refused to do so.

They were then issued letters from the Home Office telling them they had until today (8 August) to board or face having their government support withdrawn. 

A letter, seen by Sky News, reportedly stated: “Accommodation is offered on a no-choice basis. Where asylum seekers fail to take up an offer of suitable accommodation without a reasonable explanation, there should be no expectation that alternative accommodation will be offered.

“If you do not travel on 8 August, arrangements for ceasing the support you are receiving from the Home Office may commence.”

Refugee charity Care4Calais claimed asylum seekers are “entitled to say no” to being housed on the barge, and urged those who received Home Office letters to “seek legal advice”. 

You may like to watch

Care4Calais added that the letters seen in the Sky News report were given to those who were unable to secure legal representation.

“Every asylum seeker who receives a Bibby Stockholm letter has the right to challenge it, and there are multiple reasons for them to do so, from people’s mental and physical health, to some being disabled,” Steve Smith, the chief executive of Care4Calais, told PinkNews.

“We have serious concerns that the letters, as they have been issued, portray a strong element of compulsion when in fact asylum seekers are entitled to say no. It’s becoming clear that the government is now trying to target those asylum seekers who have been unable to secure legal representation, by threatening to make them homeless if they don’t move.

“We would encourage all asylum seekers who receive a Bibby Stockholm notice to seek legal advice.”

Smith added that the charity was seeking legal advice on the government’s process.

There have been protesters against the Bibby Stockholm immigration barge. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

The Bibby Stockholm is expected to hold 500 asylum seekers for at least 18 months. 

Writing on Twitter, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called it a “prison ship” and “morally indefensible”. 

He went on to say: “Political cowardice comes at a cost – and the most vulnerable will pay the highest price.”

The barge arrived at Portland Harbour, in Dorset last month, shortly after the government passed its controversial Illegal Migration Bill.

The legislation, part of prime minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to stop small boats crossing the English Channel, means asylum seekers who arrive in the from across the sea from France, or in the back of a lorry, can be detained for 28 days. 

They would subsequently be sent back to their country of origin, or to a third “safe” country such as Rwanda, a move which campaigners have described as cruel.

The bill has proved unpopular with voters, with more than 50,000 people signing a petition calling for the government to scrap the proposals, citing fears over LGBTQ+ refugees’ safety.

Cheryl Avery, the director of asylum accommodation at the Home Office, told reporters on Monday (7 August): “We have had a few challenges, but this is part of an ongoing structured process to bring a cohort of up to 500 people on board.

“There have been some challenges, some minor legal challenges, and I can’t go into the detail of those, but accommodation is offered to all individuals on a no-choice basis, so we are looking at how we manage that going forward.”

A Home Office spokesperson told PinkNews: “The first asylum seekers are now being housed on the vessel in Portland after it successfully completed all health, fire and safety checks. The number of people on board will increase gradually with more arrivals later this week and in the coming months, as part of a carefully structured phased approach. 

“This marks a further step forward in the government’s work to bring forward alternative accommodation options as part of its pledge to reduce the use of expensive hotels and move to a more orderly, sustainable system which is more manageable for local communities. 

“This is a tried and tested approach that mirrors that taken by our European neighbours, the Scottish Government and offers better value for the British taxpayer.”

Please login or register to comment on this story.