Jesuit Refugee Service expresses “outrage” at housing of asylum seekers on controversial barge

As the first small group of asylum seekers on Bibby Stockholm barge have had to be disembarked due to water system problems, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS UK) has spoken of its “outrage” at the policy.

The government intends that up to 500 men will eventually live on the vessel in Dorset while they await the outcome of their asylum applications, but the plan has seen numerous delays due to concerned about the conditions onboard. Those fears seem to have been confirmed this morning after traces of Legionella bacteria were found in the on board water system.

JRS UK has said it is “outraged” to learn that people seeking asylum have been moved onto the barge.

“As it will now operate, the barge is quasi-detention,” the JRS said in a statement.

“It is wholly inappropriate as accommodation for those seeking sanctuary. It represents a move to cut those seeking asylum off from our communities, and to dehumanise them.

“Those forced to live on the barge will be subjected to overcrowding and, at best, face severe restrictions in movement. Large-scale, detention-like sites like this expose people who have fled danger to severe re-trauma; cause near universal, chronic sleep deprivation; and rapidly lead to deterioration in the mental health. At JRS UK, we know this only too well from our experience of accompanying people placed at Napier barracks. It is horrifying to see the government not only doubling-down on its plan to roll-out quasi-detention, but even finding new ways to expand this plan and deepen its inhumanity. Furthermore, people have been moved to the barge despite serious concerns about fire safety and the risk of the outbreak of disease in such close quarters, showing disregard not only for their dignity and wellbeing, but even for their lives.”

Bibby Stockholm is the flagship of the government’s latest plan to “stop the boats” and deter dangerous Channel crossings by migrants. Home Office minister Sarah Dines said it would provide “basic but proper accommodation” and would send “a forceful message that there will be proper accommodation but not luxurious”.

However the JRS has called on the government to re-think its plans.

“We call for those placed on the barge to be urgently provided with safe alternative accommodation in British communities; for plans to use the Bibby Stockholm as asylum accommodation to be halted; and for the government to abandon all plans to accommodate asylum seekers on barges and in other quasi-detention settings.”

Last month the Bishops of England and Wales reiterated their call urging the British government to expand safe routes for asylum seekers and to redouble its efforts to address the root causes  that force people to flee their countries.

Bishop Paul McAleenan, head of the Migrants and Refugees department of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said that government policy “stands at odds with the teaching of the Church on welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating refugees”.

“Refugees are human beings made in the image and likeness of God, not a political problem to be solved,” he said.