Bibby Stockholm: What it’s like inside the barge that’s set to house asylum seekers | UK News

A controversial barge set to house migrants has arrived at the Isle of Portland.

Its port, on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, will be home to the Bibby Stockholm “floating accommodation vessel” for at least 18 months.

Amid the government’s failed Rwanda scheme, controversial Illegal Migration Bill, and Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats”, the barge has become the new epicentre of the migrant debate.

While the government says it will save millions of pounds on hotel rooms, local residents and politicians have expressed concerns about division, safety and local services.

Here, Sky News looks at who will be housed there and what conditions will be like.

Tug boat Mercia pulls the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge into Portland in Dorset
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Tug boat Mercia pulls the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge into Portland in Dorset

Why a floating barge?

The backlog of UK asylum seeker cases has reached an all-time high. According to the latest Home Office figures more than 166,000 people were still awaiting a decision at the end of last year.

In addition to the migrants already in the UK, hundreds continue to cross the Channel in small boats each day – with 12,000 having made the journey so far this year.

Currently the government is paying for 51,000 migrants to live in hotels – at a cost of £6m a day.

But protests and pressure on local services has seen ministers vow to stop accommodating arrivals in hotels – forcing them to consider other options.

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Why are you putting a barge on Portland?

They cite the Netherlands as another European country using “floating accommodation” to house migrants. Other options touted include empty holiday parks, university halls and military sites.

West Lindsey District Council is currently fighting a government bid to use RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire as migrant accommodation, along with Braintree District Council who is objecting to the use of Wethersfield airbase in Essex.

Conditions at two disused army barracks in Kent and Wales used to house migrants were found to be “utterly unacceptable”, with the latter shut down, and the government’s scheme to send those who illegally entered the country to Rwanda is still subject to legal challenges.

The government claims facilities like the Bibby Stockholm are “significantly cheaper than hotels” – with food, healthcare and security costs of this vessel reported to be £20,000 a day.

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Labour MP says migrant barges are ‘ridiculous’

Who will be living there?

The boat, owned by Bibby Marine Ltd, has capacity for 506 people.

Only single adult men between the ages of 18 and 65 will be sent there after arriving illegally in the UK, with the first 50 due to arrive in the coming weeks.

This will avoid the need to rely on infrastructure like schools, maternity and childcare services.

Dining facilities on board the Bibby Stockholm
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Pic: Bibby Marine Ltd

The government says it expects to keep them there between three and six months, but this could be extended to nine months.

Port of Portland bosses have agreed for the barge to be docked for 18 months initially, but this will be kept under review.

Barge residents are not detained, which means they are free to come and go, but they will have to sign a register each time and go through port security.

They will have to undergo “robust security checks” before they arrive, which include searches of UK and international databases.

The Home Office has paid for bus services to take barge residents to nearby Weymouth for access to local services.

Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge
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Pic: Bibby Marine Ltd

What is it like on board?

The government describes the barge as “basic and functional accommodation” and says on-site facilities are designed to “minimise the need to leave”.

It has 222 en suite bedrooms. They each have a shower, two single beds, window, TV, desk, wardrobe and further storage.

As well as the reception desk on entry and Wi-Fi throughout, the vessel has a canteen, laundry facility, gym, TV and games, and multi-faith room.

Facilities on board the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge
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Pic: Bibby Marine Ltd

Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge
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The bar has been removed. Pic: Bibby Marine Ltd

The bar, which was installed for when private companies use the barge, has been removed.

To avoid extra pressure on local services, the Home Office has paid the local NHS to provide on-site medical facilities.

Dorset Council has also been given £377,000 (£3,500 per bed space) to help fund English lessons and other activities on board.

Facilities on board the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge
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Pic: Bibby Marine Ltd

Facilities on board the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge
Image:
Pic: Bibby Marine Ltd

There is no curfew, but if a resident is “late-returning” in the evening a member of the 24-hour security team will make calls to ascertain their whereabouts.

The local Conservative MP Chris Loder has demanded to see a safety report, expressing concern each room was only designed for one person – and capacity has been scaled up inappropriately.

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