“If they’re outside local communities, they don’t have the opportunity to thrive. And it can often retraumatise people, they can become much more isolated. That initial excitement of coming to a new country can be lost.”
Experts including the Fire Brigades Union have raised alarm bells over the conditions inside the barge, which has been refurbished to house more than 500 asylum seekers, up from the 200-odd oil and gas workers who previously called it home. Documents released by NHS Dorset warn that a disease outbreak on the barge could quickly spread, the Guardian reports.
The Bibby Stockholm is part of a huge crackdown on undocumented migrants and asylum seekers as the government launches “small boats week”, unveiling a range of policies to deter undocumented migrants from crossing the British channel.
Rishi Sunak told LBC radio the barge will “help solve a serious problem”, referring to the government’s desire to reduce the cost to taxpayers of housing individuals seeking safety in the UK.
The prime minister defended the plan as “not a shambles”, saying it is an example of his government “doing something different that hasn’t been done before.”
But opponents stressed the benefits that housing asylum seekers in communities can bring while their claims are processed.
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Muhammad Irshal Khan fled to the UK from Afghanistan after the Taliban retook the country in 2021. He worked in construction building houses for the British military in Afghanistan, and is currently living in temporary hostel accommodation while he studies for a degree in construction and project management at the University of Portsmouth.
He told The Big Issue “the government should think about alternative ways of housing people that are not on boats”.
“There are many professional asylum seekers, they have good degrees and proper education, they want to work,” he said, speaking from a graduation ceremony for refugees hosted by the International Rescue Committee.
“Why not house them in communities where there is a low population instead and give them documentation to work? It would be beneficial to both the asylum seekers and the communities.”
“The accommodation is wholly unsuitable,” Carralyn Parkes, mayor of the island of Portland, where the giant barge is located, told the PA news agency. “Human beings should be cared for in communities and certainly not on barges,” she continued.
Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter): “The UK government wants [Glasgow City Council] to give consent to an asylum barge being sited in the city. We will not give it. Glasgow’s communities are proud to be beacons of support and integration for asylum seekers & refugees. This is the polar opposite of that.”
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Ministers have also announced plans to sharply increase the fines for employers and landlords who provide work or housing to asylum seekers or undocumented migrants. Bosses found to be employing workers without legal immigration status will face initial fines of up to £45,000 for each person, while landlords could be forced to pay £5,000 for each lodger.
Asylum seekers are currently banned from taking up paid employment while they wait for an outcome to their application for refugee status. While refugees are allowed to work in the UK, the barriers presented by language, a lack of local knowledge, and prejudice, they are four times more likely to be unemployed than people who were born here.