Thousands of migrants make the dangerous journey across the English Channel to reach Britain each year, often in small boats, with the hope of claiming asylum upon arrival. In an effort to address this issue, the British government has taken the controversial step of moving a group of asylum seekers onto a barge docked at the coast. The government plans for up to 500 people to eventually stay there, with the aim of reducing the cost of accommodating asylum seekers in hotels while their claims are being considered.
The move has been met with opposition from rights campaigners who view the policy as inhumane, as well as from some local residents in the port of Portland who fear that it will divert local services. However, the government appears to have calculated that taking a tough line on migration will be popular with voters ahead of the upcoming general election.
The Bibby Stockholm, the barge being used to accommodate the asylum seekers, is intentionally basic in its facilities. It has amenities such as a TV room, a multi-faith prayer room, and a small “gym.” The government insists that it is safe and has previously been used to house asylum seekers in Germany and the Netherlands.
Critics of the policy argue that housing asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm is inhumane and that barges housing asylum seekers present potential safety risks. Sarah Dines, a Home Office minister, defended the barge as “basic but proper” and emphasized that it sends a clear message of providing adequate accommodation without luxury.
While the Bibby Stockholm will have little impact on the overall number of asylum cases, as the backlog remains high, the government is considering other alternatives to hotels, including additional barges and military bases. The cost of accommodating each person on the barge has not been disclosed, making it difficult to determine whether this policy will save money for taxpayers.
The issue of asylum seekers arriving in Britain remains a challenge for the government, particularly for supporters of Brexit who promised greater control over the country’s borders. The government had previously announced plans to fly some asylum seekers to Rwanda, where they would be required to stay even if they obtained refugee status. However, this policy was halted by legal action and is currently being appealed in the Supreme Court.
The Conservative Party is accused of using asylum seekers to fuel cultural divisions and create political differences with the opposition Labour Party. The government has also announced an increase in fines for employers or landlords who knowingly cooperate with illegal immigrants. However, critics point out that penalties issued to firms employing workers illegally have actually decreased under the Conservative government, and the number of hotel rooms being used to accommodate asylum seekers has increased.
Although there has been a slight decrease in small boat arrivals this year, with more than 15,000 people having made the dangerous crossing so far, it is unclear whether this is a result of government policies or simply due to poor weather conditions. The government faces the challenge of demonstrating to voters that its tough policies are having a significant impact in addressing the issue of migration.