The first asylum seekers have arrived at the Bibby Stockholm, but at least 20 refugees have refused to go. Many are being supported by Care4Calais, which has set up an access system to link refugees to lawyers.
Care4Calais chief executive Steve Smith said: “Amongst our clients are people who are disabled, who have survived torture and modern slavery and who have had traumatic experiences at sea. To house any human being in a ‘quasi floating prison’ like the Bibby Stockholm is inhumane. To try and do so with this group of people is unbelievably cruel. Even just receiving the notices is causing them a great deal of anxiety.”
He added that the Home Office had apparently not conducted any pre-screening of asylum seekers, so that the barge was unsuitable for many of those selected to live there.
The Home Office is now hinting that asylum seekers will become homeless if they refuse to join the barge, but it appears that local authorities will then have a duty to provide accommodation.
The Home Office has said that the Bibby Stockholm provides perfectly adequate housing, although it will hold more than double the number it was designed for. The Fire Brigades Union has described it as “a potential death trap” because of overcrowding and the shortage of fire escapes.
In the early 2000s, the Bibby Stockholm was previously used to house 472 migrants in Holland. In a 2008 report by Amnesty International, a 32-year-old asylum seeker told the campaign group that conditions on the boat were “very difficult”. The asylum seeker quoted in the report went on:
“There were four people in a cell, which caused frequent fights over the use of the television, cleaning the cell and the noise. There is only a little daylight in the cells, which makes reading difficult. Moreover, the ventilation in the small cell is insufficient to keep the cell fresh; when someone went to the toilet the smell would fill the whole cell. In the morning the guards would open the cell with their nose covered to protect themselves against the stench which filled the cell overnight.”
Meanwhile, the justice minister, Alex Chalk, has endorsed comments by the deputy chair of the Conservative party, Lee Anderson, who told refugees to “F… off back to France”.
Anyone requiring legal advice can contact Care4Calais’ Access Team via WhatsApp 07519 773268 and a caseworker will contact them to arrange support.