LGBTQ+ asylum seekers to be moved to Bibby Stockholm ‘floating prison’

An aerial shot of the Bibby Stockholm barge shown from a distance on a grey, cold October morning in England.

A number of LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in the UK are among those set to be moved to the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset, a charity has said.

The Home Office began moving asylum seekers back onto the barge on Thursday (19 October) after it was evacuated in September due to a discovery of legionella bacteria in the water supply.

Rainbow Migration, a charity that works with LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in the UK, has said it is aware of a number of service-users who have received letters telling them they will be moved to the barge.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the charity described the controversial barge as a “floating prison”, and said moving LGBTQ+ people to the Bibby Stockholm could further traumatise those who have fled “unimaginable dangers and life-threatening situations”.

“Some of the LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum that we support have already started receiving letters confirming their move in the coming days, which is extremely concerning,” a spokesperson for Rainbow Migration told PinkNews.

“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.

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“People will have limited access to support and they will also not be free to move around the port, so conditions on the barge are very similar to being in prison.”

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)

They added: “In detention, LGBTQI+ people are likely to experience discrimination and harassment from other people who can hold LGBTQI-phobic views. Trans and intersex people can be at even greater risk of abuse and may be forced to hide their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

“The people that we work with are worried about being moved to the barge, and are clearly experiencing anxiety about this possibility and the impact this will have on them.

“We ask that this government commits to housing LGBTQI+ people in suitable accommodation in the community and safeguard from harm while they seek to rebuild their lives in safety here.”

Bibby Stockholm barge could house 500 asylum seekers

The news comes after months of disagreement between human rights advocates and the government on whether the Bibby Stockholm is an appropriate place to house migrants.

That debate became particularly fierce following the discovery of the legionella bacteria in the Bibby Stockholm’s water supply, which can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a serious form of pneumonia.

However, the government has held firm on its plan. As of Tuesday (24 October), 50 people were on the barge, according to immigration minister Robert Jenrick. The Home Office has said 500 people could eventually be housed on the barge.

The Bibby Stockholm plan was launched in a bid to bring down the cost of housing those who are waiting on their asylum applications to be processed in the UK. Currently, most people stay in hotels while they await a Home Office decision.

However, Labour has called into question whether the barge is actually saving any money. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has claimed the cost of the barge is five times higher than asylum hotels, and said it currently works out at around £800 per person per night.

Cooper said that figure was not including the “probable millions” that were spent on the barge while it sat empty over the summer following the legionella bacteria scare.

According to the BBC’s Ione Wells, Labour has based its £800 per person per night figure on there being just 50 people on board the Bibby Stockholm. The Home Office has disputed the figure, arguing that the cost will be lower when the barge is at full capacity.