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Bibby Stockholm: Asylum seekers should be moved back on the barge despite row over Legionella, says Steve Barclay | Politics News

Asylum seekers should still be put back on the Bibby Stockholm barge despite the row caused by the discovery of Legionella, the health secretary has said.

Legionella bacteria can cause a potentially deadly lung infection known as Legionnaires’ disease. It is contracted by people breathing in droplets of water containing the bacteria.

None of the migrants on the barge have shown any symptoms of the disease, according to the Home Office.

Asylum seekers were removed from the barge on Friday after Legionella bacteria was found in the vessel’s water system.

It later emerged that people spent four days on board the barge after the bacteria was discovered and before they were removed by the Home Office as a “precautionary measure” – prompting a blame game about what the government knew and when.

Dorset Council has said Home Office contractors were notified about the results last Monday – four days before people were moved off the barge.

The council went on to claim that a Home Office staff member was informed about the bacteria on Tuesday.

However, a government source previously told Sky News that there is no record of this conversation, and claimed the Home Office only received a written notification about the Legionella on Wednesday evening.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Barclay said ministers were informed about traces of the bacteria only on Thursday.

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‘A huge mess and a waste of money’

Asked about claims the Home Office was informed about test results which discovered the bacteria on Tuesday, he said: “This is a standard thing the council had done. There is no reason to suggest there were concerns. As a precaution the tests were done.

“As soon as ministers were notified on Thursday night, there were some concerns with that, they took instant action.”

He added: “It may be the council notified the Home Office, that is an issue for those in the Home Office to respond to, obviously this is a Home Office lead.

“My understanding from colleagues in the Home Office is it was notified to Home Office ministers on Thursday and they then took very quick action as a result.”

And asked whether people should be put back on the Bibby Stockholm despite the controversy, Mr Barclay replied: “Yes, I do, because it’s costing around £6m a day in terms of the cost of hotels.

“It’s important that we both maintain safety standards, but also reflect the pressure on the taxpayer position in terms of that £6m.”

The health secretary also said no migrants had shown signs of illness from Legionella.

“There has been no concerns in terms of anyone that has been on the barge and all those people are being subject to health assessments,” he said.

The barge is one of a number of alternative sites the Home Office is using to end reliance on expensive hotels for asylum seekers, which the government says is costing the taxpayer £6m a day.

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Asylum seekers ‘not valued’ as humans

Its operation has been mired in controversy after its opening was delayed several times before it finally opened to asylum seekers last Monday.

Charities have warned that those on board the boat have been “re-traumatised” after they were evacuated following the discovery of Legionella.

Conservative ministers have faced calls to resign over the saga, with former Cabinet minister David Davis saying the evacuation “revealed the “startling incompetence of the Home Office itself”.

“The primary thing that’s been revealed has been the startling incompetence of the Home Office itself,” he told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme:

“Rather famously many years ago, John Reid, when he took over as home secretary, talked about it being not fit for purpose, and I’m afraid you’re seeing that here.

“It’s really, really hard to understand how, at all layers, this could not be caught early.”

Read more:
Tories want to create dividing lines with Labour – but small boats week shows that can backfire
Over 100,000 people now likely to have crossed Channel in small boats since records began

He added: “Even working properly, the Bibby barge would only take effectively one day’s arrivals. So it’s not a solution to the problem and all of this is going to go on until the Home Office is able to process these arrivals more quickly.”

The government believes the existence of the barge will serve as a deterrent to those arriving in England via small boats in the Channel.

However, in a further blow to Rishi Sunak, last week saw the highest daily number of people cross the Channel, with 755 migrants making the journey on Thursday.

It brought the cumulative total since records began in 2018 to over 100,000.

The government was then forced to defend its immigration strategy after at least six people died after a small boat crossing from France to the UK capsized and sank, in what was described as an “appalling and preventable” tragedy.

Asylum seekers moved off Bibby Stockholm barge after Legionella bacteria found | UK News

Asylum seekers are being removed from the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset after Legionella bacteria was found in the water.

All of those on board are likely to be taken to new accommodation as a precautionary measure.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is understood to be chairing meetings about the situation.

Legionella bacteria, which is commonly found in water, can cause a serious type of lung infection known as Legionnaires’ disease. None of those on the barge have shown signs of having the disease.

Routine testing of the water supply was initially carried out on 25 July but Sky News understands the results did not come back until 7 August, the same day that asylum seekers began to board the barge.

Further tests have been carried out and the government is awaiting the results – but questions have been raised as to what the government knew and when.

A Home Office spokesperson said the health and welfare those on board the vessel “is our utmost priority”.

“Environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm have shown levels of legionella bacteria which require further investigation,” they said.

“Following these results, the Home Office has been working closely with UKHSA [UK Health Security Agency] and following its advice in line with long established public health processes and ensuring all protocol from Dorset Council’s environmental health team and Dorset NHS is adhered to.

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Inside the Bibby Stockholm barge

“As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken.

“No individuals on board have presented with symptoms of Legionnaires’, and asylum seekers are being provided with appropriate advice and support.

“The samples taken relate only to the water system on the vessel itself and therefore carry no direct risk indication for the wider community of Portland nor do they relate to fresh water entering the vessel.

“Legionnaires’ disease does not spread from person to person.”

The first 15 asylum seekers boarded on the Bibby Stockholm in Portland, Dorset, on Monday and a small number also arrived on Tuesday.

Several refused to board the vessel amid warnings from the Home Office that they would face having government support removed.

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Barge ‘is perfectly decent’

On Wednesday, Mr Jenrick described the barge as “perfectly decent accommodation”, despite earlier warnings from the Fire Brigades Union that the vessel was a “death trap”.

The capacity for the barge is more than 500 and has been hailed by the government as a deterrent against small boat crossings.

However, in a further blow to Rishi Sunak, the number of people who have crossed the English Channel in small boats in the past five years has now passed 100,000.

The latest Home Office figures showed 755 migrants were detected in the Channel on Thursday, the highest daily figure so far this year.

However, the total number of small boat arrivals so far this year is around 15% below the equivalent number at this point last year.

The Bibby Stockholm is one of a number of alternative sites the Home Office is using to end reliance on expensive hotels for asylum seekers, which the government says is costing £6m a day.

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Barge reminds migrant of Islamic State

There has been considerable local opposition due to concerns about the asylum seekers’ welfare and the impact on local services.

The opening of the vessel has been beset by a number of delays, including initially around fire safety concerns and then because of working practices for port authority workers.

Read more on the Bibby Stockholm:
What’s it like inside the barge?

After the first cohort boarded the Bibby Stockholm on Monday, Cheryl Avery, the director of asylum accommodation at the Home Office, said: “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 to 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.”

On Tuesday, one asylum seeker said living on the Bibby Stockholm would remind him of hiding from the Islamic State group.

Two other vessels set to house 1,000 asylum seekers were unable to find anywhere to dock and have been returned to their owners.

Bibby Stockholm: Syrian asylum seeker says barge reminds him of ‘hiding from IS’ | UK News

A traumatised Syrian asylum seeker has said living on the Bibby Stockholm would remind him of hiding from the Islamic State (IS) group, as lawyers protest against his transfer on to the barge.

With more men arriving on the vessel today, Hoshyar (not his real name) told Sky News about his fight to avoid joining them off the coast of Dorset.

He received notice at the end of July that the government planned to move him out of the hotel in Bournemouth where he’s been living for six months, and on to the barge with 500 other men.

People thought to be asylum seekers boarding the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset
People thought to be asylum seekers board the Bibby Stockholm on Tuesday

He was meant to move in on 1 August, a week before the first occupants actually arrived on board.

But through legal aid, he was able to get an intervention, and he’s been granted a reprieve while he waits for news.

“Their argument was about my age, and about the physical conditions and mental conditions,” he said.

“Because we have all run away from war, trauma or conflict and we’re looking for more space; so if you squeezed me in a smaller place, you are putting me back to that small room where I was hiding when ISIS was attacking our area,” he added, referring to another of the Islamic State group’s names.

“So it would just remind me again of that two metre by two metre room, and ISIS troops are around, and you have to hide.”

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset, which will house up to 500 people. The Home Office have said around 50 asylum seekers would board the Bibby Stockholm, with the numbers rising to its maximum capacity over the coming months, despite safety concerns raised by some of the county's Conservative MPs and locals. Picture date: Sunday August 6, 2023.
The first asylum seekers spent Monday night on the barge

Read more:
Asylum seekers face withdrawal of government support if they don’t board barge
Could migrants be sent to isolated volcanic island?
What’s it like inside the barge?

‘Solution not bigger boats’

He fears the IS fighters who are still hunting for him, but he is adamant that accommodation like the Bibby Stockholm is not the solution.

“The solution to the small boat crisis is not bigger boats,” he said.

He says the solution is to fix the backlog, and to allow people like him to work, contribute and support themselves with housing rather than relying on taxpayer-funded hotels.

He came to the UK with a visa and sought asylum in February, and has been waiting in limbo ever since – while doing his best to make Bournemouth his home.

Harjap Singh Bhangal, a solicitor who specialises in immigration and nationality law, told Sky News that even though accommodation is usually a ‘no choice’ system for asylum seekers, lawyers can argue with the Home Office against putting their clients somewhere like the Bibby Stockholm.

Read more on IS:
Islamic State still a threat in Middle East, say experts
Yazidi genocide by IS in Iraq and Syria ranked alongside Holocaust

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‘Asylum seekers can seek legal counsel’

“There is an argument by the lawyers to say ‘well hold on, what is the purpose of putting my person on a barge if he’s been living already outside for eight months, you haven’t deterred him from coming, he’s already here’,” Mr Bhangal said.

“You’re using him as just a showpiece in effect, and you are taking him out of somewhere where he is stable or somewhere he is used to, and has a network, an environment maybe he has even blended in, and you are putting him on a floating detention centre.

“What purpose is that going to serve?”

‘Basic but proper accommodation’

The government hopes the use of the barge and former military bases to house asylum seekers will reduce the cost of hotel bills.

Home Office minister Sarah Dines said those arriving in the country via unauthorised means should have “basic but proper accommodation” and that they “can’t expect to stay in a four-star hotel”.

She claimed hotels were part of the “pull” factor attracting people to the UK.

The government said: “Facilities onboard the vessel will be designed to provide for the essential needs of those accommodated in order to minimise the impact on local communities and local services. This includes the provision of basic healthcare, catering facilities and 24/7 security.”

Bibby Stockholm: Asylum seekers may be housed on barge from today – as govt unveils new migration policy | Politics News

Asylum seekers could start being housed on the Bibby Stockholm barge as soon as today – with the government announcing further measures to combat illegal migration.

About 50 people are expected to be in the first group of migrants to board the vessel docked in Portland Port, Dorset, despite local opposition.

Inside the Bibby Stockholm barge

Protesters in Portland in Dorset after the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge arrived from dry dock in Falmouth, Cornwall, where it is due to house migrants. Picture date: Tuesday July 18, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Migrants. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The developments come as the government begins a so-called “small boats week” – with a series of announcements on the issue that Rishi Sunak has promised to solve.

Fines for employers and landlords who allow people who arrive by illegal means to work for them or live in their properties are to be hugely increased.

Civil penalties for employers will be increased up to a maximum of £45,000 per worker for a first breach and £60,000 for repeat offenders, tripling both from the last increase in 2014.

Landlords face fines going from £1,000 per occupier to £10,000, with repeat breaches going from £3,000 to £20,000. Penalties relating to lodgers will also be hiked.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told Sky News that the Bibby Stockholm will accept its first occupants “in the coming days”.

The Home Office did nothing to dampen suggestions the arrivals could come on Monday. Various expected dates have been given and then missed in the past, however.

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Labour ‘stuck with barges’

Politics latest: ‘Crying shame’ not to use private sector in NHS

Mr Jenrick offered a guarantee that it is a “safe facility” after the firefighters’ union warned it is a “potential death trap”, citing concerns including overcrowding and access to fire exits.

“We hope that the first migrants will go on to the boat in the coming days, I’m not going to give you an exact date – but very soon,” he said.

He said increasing the numbers on the barge to the capacity of about 500 is still the plan despite concerns from the Fire Brigades Union over the vessel initially designed to house about 200.

The government is also reconsidering plans to fly people who arrive by unauthorised means 4,000 miles to Ascension Island, according to multiple reports.

Read more:
Labour on Bibby Stockholm barge
Social media giants to crack down on posts encouraging migrant crossings

Home Secretary Suella Braverman (centre) tours a building site on the outskirts of Kigali during her visit to Rwanda, to see houses that are being constructed that could eventually house deported migrants from the UK. Picture date: Saturday March 18, 2023.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman (centre) tours a building site on the outskirts of Kigali during her visit to Rwanda

The proposals to use the British Overseas Territory are apparently being considered by ministers and officials as a “plan B” if the Rwanda plan fails.

Deep in the South Atlantic, the volcanic island could house an asylum processing centre as an attempt to reduce the number of small boats crossing the Channel.

The plans to remove asylum seekers who arrive by unauthorised means to Rwanda have been stalled by legal challenges that will end up in the Supreme Court.

Labour would keep housing asylum seekers on barges – as Bibby Stockholm scheme to start ‘in coming days’ | Politics News

The Labour Party has said it would have “no choice” but to continue housing asylum seekers on barges and ex-military bases if it forms the next government.

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said Labour would “inherit a mess” from the Conservatives and that it would have to “deal with the infrastructure that we have”.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Kinnock said Labour would try to move asylum seekers out of hotels, barges and military camps as “quickly as possible”.

But he added: “The reality is, on day one of a Labour government, we have to deal with the infrastructure that we have in the complete, chaotic, shambolic mess that the Conservative government will have left us.”

Pressed on whether that meant Labour would still use barges, he said: “We will be left with no choice but to deal with the mess that we inherit.”

Mr Kinnock’s admission comes as the two parties trade blows over the small boat crisis in the Channel and as asylum seekers prepare to arrive on the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset “in the coming days”.

Sky News reported earlier this week that the first people were due to arrive on the vessel on Monday – from an original date of last week – following a series of delays around fire safety and working practices.

But asked about their impending arrival, immigration minister Robert Jenrick declined to give a date and said it would happen “in the coming days”.

The minister told Sky News the Home Office did not “routinely” provide dates for arrivals, citing “security reasons” – despite the previous briefings.

“We do care about the security of the individuals concerned and our staff and so we don’t routinely give out those dates, but it will be soon,” he said.

“We expect it to be in the coming days.”

Asked if the barge was safe to be used, Mr Jenrick replied: “I can absolutely assure you that this is a safe facility.

“And remember, this is something that’s been used before by other governments, by oil and gas workers. If it’s good enough for them, I’m pretty sure it’s good enough for the migrants.”

Mr Kinnock said he was “personally deeply unhappy” at the prospect of continuing to use the Bibby Stockholm, adding it was “the last thing that we would want to be doing”.

“The hotels are costing the British taxpayer £6m a day – that is money that could be channelled into far more useful causes in terms of our schools, our hospitals, helping to grow our economy.”

His rhetoric about the use of temporary accommodation for asylum seekers marks a change in tone from what Labour has previously said about the issue.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, has previously indicated she would not be able to immediately shut down the sites but was not explicit about what Labour would do if in power.

This weekend has seen a war of words escalate between the two parties over the small boats crisis.

Home Secretary Suella Braveman has accused Sir Keir Starmer in the Sunday Express of trying to “sabotage” the government’s plans with its links to charities and lawyers who oppose the scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda – a policy that is currently held up in the courts.

She said the Labour leader was “secretly delighted at his web of cronies’ schemes to block our plans to stop the boats”.

“He’s in this for political point scoring and doesn’t care about what’s good for the country or the British people,” she said.

Meanwhile, Labour has accused the government of “cooking the books” on the asylum backlog by “artificially removing” people from it to give the illusion of progress.

The party claims that there are around 6,000 missing asylum applications.

“If somebody misses one appointment, they’re immediately classified as withdrawn,” Mr Kinnock said. “It doesn’t mean that they’ve been processed either.

Read more:
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Social media giants to crack down on posts encouraging migrants to make journey

“It just puts people into limbo and effectively then people are just slipping into the underground economy. The government’s got no idea where they are and what they’re doing, and that is the opposite of the right way to run our asylum system.”

Mr Jenrick said the Home Office was in fact taking a “robust approach” to the backlog and that asylum was a “privilege”.

“If you abuse it, you should be treated appropriately,” he continued.

” If somebody doesn’t turn up to an interview or isn’t compliant with the conditions of their asylum bail, then we withdraw their case and we pass the file to immigration enforcement, who will then prepare to remove that individual.

“We don’t give people lots of second and third chances in that respect.

“I think what Labour, as far as I can tell, are suggesting is that we should keep offering people asylum over and over again, even if they don’t turn up to interviews -that’s wrong.

“If somebody doesn’t turn up, if they’re not compliant, then they should be from the country and their asylum claim withdrawn.”