Syrian migrant says living on Bibby Stockholm would remind him of ISIS

Syrian asylum seeker challenging his move to the Bibby Stockholm says being ‘squeezed into a small space’ on the barge would remind him of hiding from ISIS

  • 15 people boarded the migrant barge yesterday – but 20 others refused
  • The vessel’s previous capacity of 222 has been doubled by using bunk beds 

A Syrian asylum seeker has said living on the Bibby Stockholm barge would remind him of hiding from ISIS. 

In an interview with Sky News, the unnamed asylum seeker said he was meant to board on August 1, but he has sought a legal intervention due to his age and physical and mental health grounds. 

On Monday, 15 people spent their first night on the vessel, docked in Portland Port, but 20 refused to board due to a ‘severe fear of water’, according to their lawyers. 

The asylum seeker said being ‘squeezed into a small space’ on the barge would remind him of hiding from the Islamic State group (IS) – and would be similar to what he had escaped from back home. 

The man said: ‘We are all running away from war, trauma and conflict. 

A Syrian asylum seeker has said living on the Bibby Stockholm barge (pictured in Portland Port today) would remind him of hiding from ISIS

‘We’re looking for more space so if you put me and squeeze me into a smaller place, you are putting me back into that small room where I was hiding when ISIS were attacking our area. 

‘So it just reminded me again that we are in a two metre by two metre room and ISIS troops are around and you have to hide.’ 

He was told only at the end of July that he would be moved onto the barge from a hotel he had been living in for six months in Bournemouth. 

The vessel’s previous capacity of 222 has been doubled to 500 by putting bunk beds in its cabins and converting some communal rooms into dormitories for four to six men.

However the idea has been slammed by campaign groups and charities and ‘shameful’ and likely to be a ‘re-traumatising’ experience for those who have had to flee from their home countries. 

In an open letter to Bibby Marine, the barge owner, over 40 organisations called the housing ‘cruel and inhumane.’ 

And Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: ‘It seems there’s nothing this Government won’t do to make people seeking asylum feel unwelcome and unsafe in this country.

‘Reminiscent of the prison hulks from the Victorian era, the Bibby Stockholm is an utterly shameful way to house people who’ve fled terror, conflict and persecution.

The unnamed asylum seeker told Sky News in an interview that being ‘squeezed’ into the small rooms would remind him of hiding from ISIS

People board the Bibby Stockholm immigration barge on August 8 in Portland Port – after 20 refused

People are seen carrying rucksacks and plastic bags as they climb aboard the Bibby Stockholm today

The Bibby Stockholm is seen moored in Portland this morning 

‘Housing people on a floating barge is likely to be re-traumatising and there should be major concerns about confining each person to living quarters the typical size of a car parking space.’

Meanwhile 20 others have refused to board the Bibby Stockholm due to a ‘severe fear of water’, according to their lawyers.  

Asylum seekers have been warned they must board the barge today or have their free accommodation withdrawn after 15 spent their first night on the vessel. 

The group’s transfer onto the barge was ‘cancelled’ on Monday after legal challenges from representatives of Care4Calais claimed the Home Office had not screened them to see if it was suitable to put them there.

The charity’s CEO Steve Smith has since revealed that some of the asylum seekers it supported didn’t board the vessel yesterday due to ‘mental health concerns’, some of which arose from being ‘traumatised by seeing their friends drown at sea’.

The legal firm behind the last-minute legal challenges is understood to be London-based Duncan Lewis, which played a key role in challenging the Government’s Rwanda asylum scheme.

However, it is understood that those who refuse to be transferred will be given 24 hours to change their minds before the Home Office considers withdrawing their free, full-board accommodation. In that event, they would be declared homeless and responsibility for their housing would pass to their local authority.

More asylum seekers are set to arrive on the barge (pictured) over the course of the day 

A bus arrives at Portland Port in Dorset this morning

Today, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk acknowledged it is ‘frustrating’ that just 15 migrants had boarded the 500-capacity Bibby Stockholm following the legal challenges. 

READ MORE – What’s the Bibby Stockholm like on the inside?

‘Of course it’s frustrating. It requires a huge amount of time and effort and organisation to procure these alternatives,’ he told BBC Breakfast. 

‘I think the British people would expect their Government to do that if it is our cheaper alternative… it doesn’t diminish our resolve to solve this.’ 

He later told Sky News: ‘This is about fairness – yes to migrants – but also the British people.

‘We are clear that it’s safe and reasonable that people should be provided with acceptable accommodation but not accommodate that goes beyond that and costs a huge amount of money.’

The migrants transferred to the barge came from hotels in Oxford, Bristol, Torbay and Bournemouth, as the government’s solution to its rocketing £6million-a-day hotel bill for new arrivals was put into action. 

It will eventually house 500 men aged 18 to 65 as they wait for their asylum applications to be processed.

Addressing the asylum seekers who were appealing against being moved to the barge, Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said: ‘If they don’t like barges then they should f*** off back to France.’

READ MORE – Deputy Tory deputy chair ’30p Lee’ Anderson tells migrants refusing to board Bibby Stockholm: ‘If they don’t like barges they should f*** off back to France’ 

Mr Chalk later defended his comments, telling LBC: ‘Lee Anderson expresses the righteous indignation of the British people. Yes, he does it in salty terms, that’s his style, but his indignation is well placed.’

The Justice Secretary said France is a safe country and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

‘People should claim asylum in the first country – it’s not like there should be an open shopping list of where you want to go,’ he said.

‘He expresses himself in his characteristically robust terms but there is a lot of sense, in my respectful view, in what Lee says.’  

At the port yesterday, campaigners brought flowers and welcome packs containing basic toiletries and other useful items, including a map of the area. But they were not able to give these directly to the migrants and had to leave them with security staff at the port gate. 

But one man vox-popped by the BBC News at 10 said they have ‘en-suite showers, they’re getting three cooked meals a day. Really they’re living like kings.’ 

Yesterday, new figures showed the number of migrants staying in hotels has hit 50,000, a 25 per cent increase from 40,000 in December, when Rishi Sunak promised to end the placement of asylum seekers in hotels. 

Ministers confirm Rwanda ‘Plan B’ talks 

Ministers last night confirmed alternative plans are being drawn up in case the Rwanda asylum deal is blocked by the courts.

It came after the Daily Mail revealed yesterday that Channel migrants could be sent to Ascension Island for processing as part of a radical ‘Plan B’.

As a further fall-back, up to five other countries – all believed to be in Africa – are in negotiations to take asylum seekers. Home Office minister Sarah Dines said the Government was examining ‘additional schemes across the globe’.

Former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said housing migrants on Ascension, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, was previously ruled out as it would cost £1million a head and was ‘thought to be impossibly expensive to do’.

The £140million Rwanda deal, which involves sending migrants to the east African nation to claim asylum there rather than here, was blocked on human rights grounds by the Court of Appeal in June.

Ms Dines said the Government was ‘confident’ it will be declared lawful, with the Supreme Court due to hear the Home Office’s appeal in October, and a ruling expected six to eight weeks later.

Ascension was first looked at as a possible location for a processing centre in 2021. As it is British soil, it would remove some of the legal difficulties involved in deporting migrants to a foreign state.

But it is understood the plans were abandoned largely due to objections from the US military, which has a presence on the island. A source familiar with the initial negotiations said: ‘The Americans didn’t want people poking around there.

‘You’d be sending migrants… whose affiliations are unclear. You wouldn’t be able to detain them, and they’d be free to roam on the island.’

The 34-square-mile territory has no hospital and moving large numbers of migrants and staff there could overload existing power and water facilities.

The enormous three-storey barge is the length of a football pitch and has 222 en-suite bedrooms, a gym and a 24-hour canteen. 

All bedrooms have TVs but they are not attached to aerials so can only be used by wiring them to another device, such as a laptop, while free Wi-Fi is available throughout the barge at a speed of 1gb per second.  

Those living onboard will take part in activities including cricket, cycling, tending allotments and going on guided hikes in the Dorset countryside. 

They will also take part in organised ‘cultural events’ and get free buses and taxis to enjoy local towns. Buses every hour from 7am to 11pm will ferry men to Weymouth, a nearby seaside resort with a beach, fishing boat fleet and marina.

If they miss the 11pm bus back to the barge, free taxis are available by phoning a special number. On top of free food, accommodation and transport, each migrant is given £9.58 a week pocket money.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Smith revealed that none of the 20 migrants his charity was supporting had gone to the barge as ‘legal representatives have had their transfers cancelled’.

‘These 20 range from survivors of torture to people who have been beaten, shot at, some arrested, some traumatised by seeing their friends drown at sea and who therefore have a severe fear of water,’ he told The Telegraph.

‘There are therefore mental health concerns and a very worried and very traumatised community. Details of those individuals have been passed to lawyers who have raised challenges about the suitability screening.

‘There appears to have been no suitability screening. I understand that on that basis some removals to the barge have ceased.’

Speaking elsewhere, he added: ‘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.’

The Stand Up To Racism campaign group said the asylum seekers who avoided transfer to the barge included nine housed in Bournemouth.

A government source said: ‘This just shows what we are up against: Left-wing charities and lawyers are repeatedly trying to stop us from moving illegal migrants out of expensive hotels.

‘Other European countries use barges safely and at lower costs than hotels. Labour need to quit trying to sabotage our plans to stop the boats. It’s time they backed the barge.’

Yesterday, Portland resident Ian Broadhurst got into a heated debate with the Stand Up To Racism campaigners asking why they were giving help to strangers instead of helping poverty-stricken islanders.

Mr Broadhurst, who does charity work with the local food bank and community fridge, said: ‘This isn’t being racist, this is saying we need to look after ourselves. We cannot afford them here when we can’t even look after our own people.’

Home Office minister Sarah Dines said the vessel – which previously housed oil and gas workers – would provide ‘basic but proper accommodation’ and that those who arrive in the UK by illegal means ‘can’t expect to stay in a four-star hotel’.  

She told the BBC on Monday: ‘What it sends is a forceful message that there will be proper accommodation but not luxurious.

People look out over Portland port, where the Bibby Stockholm is moored 

The Bibby Stockholm, pictured in Portland Port on Monday night, has received its first asylum seekers

A coach arrives at the front gates as the Bibby Stockholm welcomes its first asylum seekers in Portland, Dorset

Campaigners attempted to give goodie bags containing flowers, shampoo and maps of Portland to the asylum seekers

‘Luxurious hotel accommodation has been part of the pull, I’m afraid. There have been promises made abroad by the organised criminal gangs and organisations which have tried to get people into the country unlawfully and they say, ”You will be staying in a very nice hotel in the middle of a town in England”.

‘That needs to stop and the barge is just one of a wide range of other measures.’

The vessel’s previous capacity of 222 has been doubled to 500 by putting bunk beds in its cabins and converting some communal rooms into dormitories for four to six men.

READ MORE – Suella Braverman wages war on crooked immigration lawyers as she announces new taskforce to root out rogue firms with those found guilty of fraud facing LIFE in jail

Ms Dines said the barge would be in use ‘imminently’, despite a series of delays, and suggested it could house 500 asylum seekers by the end of the week.

She also confirmed ‘all possibilities’ for tackling the migrant crisis are being examined, following reports that the Government is considering reviving plans to fly people who arrive by unauthorised means 4,000 miles to Ascension Island.

While only a small number of migrants are expected to be housed on the barge at first, Ms Dines suggested it could increase rapidly to its capacity of around 500 men.

Pressed on whether all of them could be on board by the end of the week, Ms Dines said: ‘Yes, quite possibly it will be 500. We are hoping.’

But Downing Street appeared to suggest she had misspoken, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying that while ‘no limit’ had been set on how many people would board the barge this week, the Government’s plan was to reach the capacity ‘over time’, adding: ‘I don’t think we are aiming to do it by the weekend.’

The Home Office later clarified the total would be reached over a longer period of time and not by the end of the week.

Police stand guard as a coach arrives at the front gates by Bibby Stockholm in Portlandon on Monday

Campaigners brought bunches of flowers and welcome packs containing toiletries and other useful items to give them to asylum seekers arriving on the barge

The group were not able to give these directly to the migrants and had to leave them with security staff at the port gate

Some of the brown card bags containing bunches of flowers 

A range of meals will be served from the barge’s canteen. Food is available 24 hours a day, including breakfast and a three-course lunch and dinner

Those on board the controversial barge can make the most of comfortable sofas in the TV room

Some of the residents who are against the barge say they are disgusted with the Government for ignoring their concerns about public safety and the impact the migrants will have on already overstretched local resources.

It is believed Portland Port, a private enterprise, will receive £2.5million from the arrangement with the Home Office.

Dorset Council and NHS Dorset are also being paid £3million for laying on extra services, healthcare and activities for them. Money will also be spent on beefing CCTV in the area and paying for additional community safety officers.

Members of the Stand Up To Racism group, claimed that most asylum seekers don’t want to stay on the barge.

One member said: ‘Every asylum seeker who got in touch with Care4Calais and told them they didn’t want to go to the barge has successfully made a case.

‘There were nine in Bournemouth. They have been taken off the list but one has chosen to come.

‘They have been there at least four months, they’ve got support networks in Bournemouth, they’ve made a life there and they don’t know anything about Portland. One said he had seen some of the hate online and was very scared.’

The new arrivals will be given an ‘induction’ to help them understand ‘what is expected in the community’.

It is understood instructions on being ‘a good neighbour’ will include advice not to crowd together in large groups, not to carry weapons and to avoid entering children’s playgrounds. 

A view inside the gym onboard the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge

A view inside one of the bedrooms on board the vessel, which previously housed oil and gas workers 

Onboard is a cross-Channel ferry-style canteen serving breakfast and a three-course lunch and dinner, although food will be available 24 hours a day. 

Breakfast choices include eggs, pancakes, bread and yoghurts; lunch options include potato soup, garlic chicken, Irish stew, and roast turkey with rice, and dinner choices include paella, fried fish and oriental chicken. Pictures show bottles of Ribena and Heinz tomato ketchup.

In the middle of the barge are two outdoor recreational areas, each about 80ft by 30ft, where there are plans to host ‘basketball, netball and volleyball’ matches.

There is a classroom for English language lessons, a computer room with free WiFi and a medical room with a nurse, and a GP on call. 

Concerns have been raised over fire safety arrangements on the barge, with only two main exits across the three decks. 

But Ms Dines insisted that the Bibby Stockholm barge was a ‘safe place’ for asylum seekers to be housed after it was put to her that safety checks had caused their arrival on the vessel to be delayed.

Ms Dines told LBC: ‘It is a safe place for people to live and stay. It is a very complex situation.

‘Let us just be clear that the Government is determined to use barges such as this one to make sure we have somewhere which is proper – rudimentary but proper – accommodation for migrants.’

Labour has repeatedly flip-flopped over its position on the barge, with shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock telling BBC Breakfast on Sunday that barges would continue to be used if his party won the next general election.   

But shadow international trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds was non-committal when repeatedly asked whether Labour supports the use of the Bibby Stockholm.

Bedrooms on board contain a wardrobe as well as a small desk, chair and television

The barge – moored in Portland – also offers a multifaith room 

A view of the doctor’s room onboard the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge

Asked if Labour supports the use of the barge, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We do not wish to run and will not run an asylum system that requires the use of bases, barges or indeed of hotels, those are being used as additional accommodation because of the failure of the Conservatives to run our asylum system properly over many years.’

On whether Labour supports people being moved onto the barge, he said: ‘Look, I am in favour of there being safe and secure accommodation. Now there have been some concerns raised by fire experts over this barge that it’s important that the Home Office address, I’m obviously not close enough to those conversations, I can’t individually say whether that safety standard has been met in every single case.’

Asked if he objects to the barge being used if safety standards have been met, he said: ‘Government has to place people in safe accommodation, that’s clear. In terms of where Labour would be, we’re not in Government today, much as I would like us to be.

‘Our position is we would get that backlog down. With respect, I’m not in Government today sitting there around that Cabinet table to be able to say individually which particular parts of this extra accommodation Government failure is necessitating is safe or unsafe, there have been concerns raised which the Home Office has to address.’

Professor Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has said its officials will visit the Bibby Stockholm barge ‘once the migrants are there to check out some of the infection prevention control’.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The health of those on board is very much for the Home Office, when migrants enter the country they go into Home Office accommodation initially and then when they are moved to a local area that is a link with the local NHS, so my understanding is most of those initially at least going onto the Bibby Stockholm will actually have had a health assessment before they arrive there.

‘And we work very closely with the Home Office in anticipation, indeed we have on this particular event.’

A security checkpoint onboard the vessel, as shown in a new report yesterday

The barge has 222 cabins along narrow corridors

A classroom for English language lessons onboard the barge 

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