Home Office denies asylum seeker barge is a 'floating prison'
Overcrowding and inadequate safety provision will place the lives of asylum seekers at risk if they are moved on to the Bibby Stockholm barge of the coast of Portland in Dorset, a senior firefighter has warned – describing the vessel as a “potential deathtrap”.
Ben Selby, assistant general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was commenting after the Government was forced to postpone plans to place the first group of men on the ship, which is equipped with 222 cabins, following the intervention of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Meanwhile Mayor of Portland Carralyn Parkes branded the Home Office “inconsistent”, insisting the barge was “not suitable”.
Speaking yesterday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the plan, saying Bibby Stockholm was going through a series of checks before it can house asylum seekers following a delay.
However, his optimism was not shared by others, not least Mr Selby, who voiced serious concerns about access to fire exits and overcrowding fire exits which he said had been raised to him by his members.
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The Bibby Stockholm’s cabins are located in narrow corridors spread over three decks, with two fire exits, Mr Selby pointed out.
He told the Guardian: “As the only professional voice, firefighters believe the Bibby Stockholm to be a potential deathtrap.”
Safety campaigner Nicola David has echoed his concerns, last month warning the ship had the potential to be a “floating Grenfell”, in reference to the 2017 London tower block blaze in which 72 people died.
The plans have also prompted vociferous protests from residents of Portland.
Ms Parkes said the Home Office, led by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, had been “inconsistent and opaque” in its decision-making and was trying to “rush through” the proposal without proper consultation and consideration”.
She insisted: “The Bibby Stockholm is not a suitable place to house asylum seekers.
“It is still not too late to stop this. Human beings belong in communities.”
Speaking on Monday, Graham Kewley, Fire Safety Manager, Group Manager with Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) continues to liaise with partner agencies, the Bibby Stockholm’s operator and the Home Office through the Multi-Agency Forum and relevant subgroups.
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“We have provided advice and comment in relation to fire safety arrangements to both the Home Office and the vessels operators during our familiarisation and pre-occupation visits.”
Speaking to reporters at the Great British Beer Festival in west London’s Olympia yesterday, Mr Sunak said: “All migrant accommodation has to go through a series of checks and inspections to make sure it complies with regulation, that’s what’s happening in this case.
“But let’s take a step back, this is ultimately about fairness. I don’t think it’s fair that British taxpayers are forking out six million quid a day to house illegal migrants in hotels – I want to put an end to that.”
Asked on Sky News yesterday when the barge would be available, Transport Minister Richard Holden said: “It’s going through its final checks at the moment. It’s right that… whatever accommodation we provide is safe and secure as well. I can’t put a timeframe on it.”
“It’s going through final checks at the moment. With anything you’d want them to be properly checked out.”
Asked why there was no timeframe, he added: “The checks are going to take as long as they’re going to take.
“It’s important we get these things right.
“I can’t comment on the ongoing process of checks and things that have to take place but it is my understanding it is in its final checks.”
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