Portland migrant barge plans thrown into chaos

The first asylum seekers’ arrival at the Portland migrant barge Bibby Stockholm has been delayed throwing the plans into chaos. About 500 migrants will be housed on the vessel, which was met with protests when it arrived in Portland last week.

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The Home Office wrote in a tweet posted on July 18: “Next week the first asylum seekers will be moved to the vessel as part of a carefully structured plan which will increase the numbers gradually.”

But more work is needed to prepare the 222-bedroom barge for the first arrivals, according to Sky which reports the first 50 single men will arrive next week “at the earliest”.

Officials on Friday had refused to specify a date or confirm if there had been any further delays to the plans, insisting the arrivals would be in the coming weeks.

The project has been beset by delays with the Bibby Stockholm arriving in the Dorset port a month behind schedule after maintenance work was carried out in Falmouth, Cornwall.

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Single men will live on the barge, which has 24-hour security, sleeping on bunk beds with between two and six people per en-suite room.

A canteen, gym, classroom, exercise yards, TV room and space for worship are among the “basic” facilities on board. A nurse will also be stationed on the barge five days a week, with asylum seekers having access to a doctor if needed.

During a recent press tour of the barge, officials remained tight-lipped as to the daily running cost of the barge but stressed it was “significantly” cheaper than the £6million-a-day taxpayer bill for using hotels.

The Home Office’s Deputy Director for Asylum Accommodation, Leanne Palk, said figures would not be revealed until they are published in end-of-financial year accounts, adding: “This is significantly cheaper than a hotel.

“We have very rigorous tests on value for money and they do provide value for money against the cost of hotels.”

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Dorset Council is receiving £3,500 per occupied bed space on the Bibby, with extra funding provided to local NHS services and police, according to the Home Office.

It is understood the council has also received almost £380,000 in a one-off grant to help support local charities and voluntary organisations to provide services on board.

Conservative MP Chris Loder, who represents West Dorset, has demanded to see the barge’s safety reports and claimed it is going to house double the amount of people it is meant to.

The barge has also seen local opposition as well as counter-protests from supporters of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

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