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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

Dorset Tories voice concerns about barge for asylum seekers

The Bibby Stockholm floating accommodation vessel, which is set to house asylum seekers.
The Bibby Stockholm floating accommodation vessel, which is set to house asylum seekers. Photograph: Bibby Marine Limited/Reuters

A Home Office plan to house more than 500 people seeking asylum on a giant barge in Dorset is facing serious reservations from the local police commissioner and council leader, both of whom are Conservatives.

Councillors have told the Guardian that the department has failed to adequately respond to dozens of detailed questions about plans to place a barge containing 506 male asylum seekers in Portland Port from next month.

They are demanding to know the security provisions to keep asylum seekers safe from attacks; the background checks on those who will be housed on the barge; the health and waste provisions for those living on the barge; and are demanding extra resources to pay for local services.

Dorset council is still considering launching legal action to stop the barge from arriving in late June.

Home Office officials were dispatched to the area on Wednesday after questions were raised over the safety of both the asylum seekers and local residents.

They were due to meet Dorset councillors on Wednesday afternoon and Portland councillors on Thursday.

The Guardian disclosed on Monday that the government was seeking more redundant cruise ships, ferries and barges to house asylum seekers in ports around the country, with Merseyside expected to be next in line as ministers struggle to get to grips with the asylum backlog.

Home Office insiders have conceded that they may have to find more hotels to house people – despite pressure from Conservative backbench MPs – after failing to locate 10,000 spaces in military camps, disused prisons and large vessels as hoped.

In a joint statement, Dorset council and Dorset police set out their shared position on the Home Office’s plans.

David Sidwick, the police and crime commissioner, said he had lobbied the home secretary, Suella Braverman, and Home Office minister Chris Philp for extra funding to cover extra security around the perimeter of the port.

“I will continue to push the government to fully fund the necessary security requirements brought about by the decision they have made to site this barge here in our county,” he said.

Spencer Flower, the leader of Dorset council, said the council remained opposed to the proposals.

“However, like all local agencies, we have statutory responsibilities to fulfil and collectively we want to ensure robust arrangements are in place if this goes ahead.

“We still have unanswered questions which we are waiting for the Home Office and the barge operator to respond to.”

Pete Roper, the mayor of Portland, said there had been little information from the Home Office, whose officials he was is due to meet on Thursday.

“We are completely in the dark. We are hoping to find out what is going on when we meet,” he said.

“We need to know what security checks asylum seekers will have been through when they arrive.

“And we need to know what the security provisions will be to protect the port, which has a single entrance and exit point. The barge might attract protests from far-right groups from outside the local area.”

The giant barge, which was built to hold about 220 people, is expected to arrive in the UK this week to be refitted before being moved to Dorset in late June.

It has no engine so it is being towed from Italy to England by an Italian-flagged tugboat.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6m a day.

“We have to use alternative accommodation options, as our European neighbours are doing – including the use of barges and ferries to save the British taxpayer money.”

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