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First asylum seekers moved to barge off UK south coast

First asylum seekers moved to barge off UK south coast

by host

LONDON — The British government has moved a first cohort of asylum seekers onto a barge docked off the Dorset coast as part of a concerted push to deter people from traveling to the U.K. by small boats.

The first asylum seekers arrived on the 222-room Bibby Stockholm barge, which is set to house up to 500 people, on Monday, a U.K. government official, not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed.

The U.K. government has pushed ahead with the controversial plan amid pressure to find an alternative to housing asylum seekers in hotels, a strategy the Home Office says is costing £2.3 billion a year. 

Earlier on Monday the Home Office minister Sarah Dines told Sky News that “luxurious hotel accommodation” has been “part of the pull” for criminals trafficking people to the U.K. Housing people on the Bibby Stockholm barge sends “a forceful message that there will be proper accommodation, but not luxurious,” she said.

“There have been promises made abroad by the organized criminal gangs and organizations which are trying to get people into the country unlawfully,” she said. 

“They say you will be staying in a very nice hotel in the middle of England. That needs to stop.”

Migrants rights group Care4Calais said in a statement on Monday that the asylum seekers it was supporting had had their “transfers cancelled.”

“Human beings should be housed in communities, not barges,” Steve Smith, chief executive of the refugee charity, said.

The plan to house people on the boat has been shunned by safety groups, with the Fire Brigades Union, describing the 222-room barge as a “potential deathtrap.” 

Assistant General Secretary Ben Selby said the “main concerns are focused around those large numbers trying to pass through narrow doorways, trying to pass through narrow corridors.”

“If firefighters were needed to make entry on to that, through those narrow corridors, when people were seeking to escape from it in case of a fire, how would they ever reach the seat of that fire and be able to make the necessary rescues?,” he added. 

The first arrivals were due last week, but the Home Office said final preparations had been needed “to ensure it complies with all appropriate regulations before the arrival of the first asylum seekers.”

Campaign group Freedom from Torture has warned housing asylum seekers on barges could be “profoundly retraumatising” for those who have survived torture.

“Cramped conditions can be reminiscent of the places in which they were tortured, and being on the water will be a constant reminder of the deadly journeys they made to reach safety,” the pressure group said in a statement.

The Netherlands is using a similar system to house asylum seekers, with roughly 900 people temporarily living aboard the 3000-person Silja Europa.

The British government reportedly visited the Silja Europa. The Home Office scrapped separate plans for a barge off the north-west coast of England in June.

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