The first images of the internal accommodation on the Bibby Stockholm, the barge stationed in Portland Port, Dorset, that is designed to house 500 asylum seekers, have been revealed.
Fifty people are expected as part of the first group of asylum seekers to arrive on the barge – which was met with protests when it arrived in Portland earlier this week – before numbers are steadily increased to about 500 single adult male asylum seekers by the autumn.
Around 3,000 asylum seekers will be accommodated on non-hotel sites by the autumn under Rishi Sunak’s bid to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel, the Home Office has said.
Other sites include former military sites Wethersfield in Essex and Scampton in Lincolnshire.
The move comes as part of the Government’s plan to reduce the use of hotels in housing asylum seekers – which the Home Office said costs taxpayers £6m a day.
All three sites are said to provide “basic and functional accommodation” which is cheaper than using hotels, the Government said.
When Bibby Stockholm was first used in the 2000s, asylum seekers said that up to four people would be crammed into one room. A 2008 Amnesty International report found that one person died in the accommodation.
Since then, the Home Office has said it has refurbished the barge and it will have a multi-faith room, a gym, and outdoor exercise facilities on board. It added that 24/7 security would also be provided.
Here’s a look inside the controversial site of Bibby Stockholm, on Portland Port.
The outside of Bibby Stockholm
The barge is spread out over three floors. It houses up to 506 people and has 222 bedrooms.
Brochures of the barge said that there would only be 222 single ensuite bedrooms, before the Home Office commissioned changes to the barge.
New images show small bunk bed rooms, with a heater and a desk space.
The Bibby Stockholm fact sheet says that rooms “typically” include an en-suite, a flat-screen TV, storage, and a Wi-Fi connection.
The kitchen and restaurant
Images of the kitchen and catering area onboard Bibby Stockholm. The Home Office has said that meals would be provided for residents.
Facilities aboard the barge
A basic gym and outdoor exercise area are also available on the boat. It includes treadmills, cross trainers, and weights.
There’s also a conference room, a classroom, and a faith room on board.
The arrival of the vessel into the port on Tuesday morning was met with protests from both anti-migrant groups, and Stand Up to Racism Dorset, who described it as a “prison barge.”
Last week, the Home Office announced that the first asylum seekers had moved to Wethersfield.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said: “This Government has been clear that those who arrive in the UK illegally should not be housed in expensive hotels.
“Our use of alternative accommodation sites and vessels provide basic and appropriate standards for small boats arrivals while their claims are determined.
“We are providing substantial financial support to the local council and are committed to working with key stakeholders to ensure the Portland vessel and Wethersfield site have as little impact as possible for communities.
“Ultimately, the best way to relieve pressures on communities is to stop the boats in the first place.”
Dorset Council is receiving £3,500 per occupied bed space on the Bibby Stockholm, with additional funding provided to the local NHS and police, the Home Office said.
The council has also received almost £380,000 in a one-off grant to help support local charity and voluntary organisations provide services on board, it is understood.
Carralyn Parkes, the Mayor of Portland, said the plans to keep up to 500 migrants on the Bibby Stockholm were “awful”, and that she feared that the area would not have sufficient infrastructure.
“I think it’s horrible to keep this artificial community. Ordinary people live in communities where people thrive. People’s needs are best met in communities, not housed all together in camps, or barges,” she said. “It’s going back to the Second World War. It’s awful.”
It follows the Government’s sweeping asylum reforms becoming law on Thursday as the Illegal Migration Bill became an Act of Parliament after being given royal assent.
The much-criticised flagship legislation will prevent people from claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means.
The Government also hopes the changes will ensure detained people are promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda, which is currently the subject of a legal challenge.
Officials are still working on when the Act will come into force and it is anticipated elements of the new laws may be implemented in stages over the coming months.
But the Home Office said that as of Thursday “people who arrive illegally under the new laws will be banned from re-entering the UK and will not be eligible for settlement or citizenship, except in limited circumstances”.
Additional reporting from PA