Governments plans in disarray as only 15 migrants board the Bibby Stockholm barge
The first 15 of a projected 500 asylum seekers intended to be housed on the Bibby Stockholm, were finally escorted on board the controversial migrant barge this morning, Monday 7th August, in Portland, Dorset.The selected new inhabitants had been notified of the move in the late hours of last Friday evening and presented with ‘no-choice’ option letters by the Home Office, informing them that they were being moved to new accommodation, but without any definitive information as to the nature or location of the accommodation.
Legal challenge calls a halt to the move of 20 migrants on the grounds that they had suffered 'water-related trauma'
20 others migrants, who were scheduled to join them, had their moves deferred after a legal challenge was successfully launched by the legal team of the asylum seeker and refugee supporting charity ‘Care4Calais’. Their move was halted on the grounds that they - clients of Care4Calais, were they argued, ‘disabled individuals, individuals who had suffered water-related trauma or who had survived slavery and torture’ and for whom the barge would be a wholly inappropriate place of residence. Many other migrants, originally scheduled to board the Bibby Stockholm on Monday morning, suddenly found their moves cancelled or postponed at the last minute. Several others not represented by the charity, simply refused to be moved. According to a Home Office press release, it was intended that 50 migrants should have taken up residence on the barge on Monday, but clearly things did not work out as planned, in a week that has been billed ‘Stop the Boat Week’.
Protesters provide migrants with welcome bags
It was of note that the majority of protesters who greeted the migrants as they alighted from buses in the Portland dockyard and made their way up the boarding ramp, appeared to be sympathetic to their plight. They carried banners emblazoned with the words ‘Welcome’ while teams of volunteers handed the new boarders gift bags with useful items such as soap, shampoo, deodorant and other toiletries.
'Housing people fleeing threats and persecution on an overcrowded barge is appalling'
Care4Calais’s Facebook page included a statement from the CEO, Steve Smith, which read:
‘We have been working closely with 20 people who have been served with Bibby Stockholm letters, and who have experienced great anxiety and stress. These include disabled people, people who have suffered water-related trauma, and have survived slavery and torture. We have helped them access legal representation to challenge their moves. Today some moves have been cancelled, while others had their moves postponed pending the Home Office’s response.
Housing people fleeing threats and persecution on an overcrowded barge is appalling, and in itself likely to cause extreme distress. These are people who have endured horrific and often life-threatening journeys; being trapped in small, cell-like rooms behind the high metal fences will induce fear, anxiety and panic.’
Mixed messages from the Home Office
Despite warnings from the Fire Brigades Union which expressed concerns about the safety of the barge, concluding that in its current condition, it was unsafe, the Home Office Minister, Sarah Dines attempted to disguise the real purpose of the decision to house migrants on the barge by saying that it would adequately provide:
‘basic but proper accommodation’ whilst admitting that it would also send ‘a forceful message that there will be proper accommodation but not luxurious’
She later admitted that in the wake of delays to the government’s Rwanda plans, and in accordance with the new provisions under the Illegal Migration Act, the government was currently considering transporting migrants to the British overseas territory Ascension Island, in the middle of the southern Atlantic. The Ascension Island covers an area of 88 sq km, with a current population of 800 mostly temporary resident workers. It is situated approximately 1000 miles from the coast of Africa and 1400 miles from the coast of South America. Some would argue that it is conveniently in the middle of nowhere.
Tough new measures to penalise employers and landlords who hire or house illegal migrants
Clearly intended to coincide with the first migrant boat arrivals, government ministers also announced Monday, that the government was scheduling to increase fines and penalties to employers and landlords who hire or house migrants who arrive in the UK by ‘irregular’ means.
Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick said:
‘Making it harder for illegal migrants to work and operate in the UK is vital to deterring dangerous, unnecessary small boat crossings. Unscrupulous landlords and employers who allow illegal working and renting enable the business model of the evil people smugglers to continue. There is no excuse for not conducting the appropriate checks and those in breach will now face significantly tougher penalties’
Under the new rules, the maximum first time offence for landlords found guilty of providing rentals to illegal migrants will see the current fine of £80 increased to £5,000. Landlords who commit a breach on more than one occasion can be fined up to £10,000 per person. Employers found guilty of employing workers without lawful immigration status will see existing fines of £15,000 increased to up to £45,000 for each worker.