Ian Acheson Ian Acheson

The truth about the Bibby Stockholm migrant barge

The Bibby Stockholm (Credit: BBC)

The ingloriously-named Bibby Stockholm has weighed anchor in Dorset’s Portland harbour to a storm of protest. The vessel is intended to house up to 500 single male adults who have arrived in this country by illegal means. Rishi Sunak’s pledge to ‘stop the boats’ has morphed into a need for bigger boats to contain a small fraction of those asylum seekers still arriving every day on our coastline.

A rare but conspicuously uncomfortable alliance of activists and local Nimbys have united in protest against this move. The former assert that conditions will be inhumane; the latter fret about overwhelmed local services. Both are proxies for a national debate polarised between welcoming everyone who wants a better life on these shores and deprecating a policy that risks putting needy Brits at the back of the queue for decent housing and services.

But in this fractious discussion, one thing seems clear: no one would want to swap places with the barge’s new residents. The facility has been given a Robert Jenrick-style make under and all the official PR focuses on facilities being basic but decent. No longer will illegal migrants be housed in four star hotels. They will have to put up with offshore austerity.

A rare but conspicuously uncomfortable alliance of activists and local Nimbys have united in protest

Except this isn’t quite right. The facilities will house migrants in air conditioned rooms with wifi. Many rooms have a sea view. Far from being confined, the residents can come and go as they please with buses laid on to take them into nearby Weymouth. Taxpayers will be relieved to know that a register is being kept of who is on and off the floatel, although reports of 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children missing from hotels on dry land might make them sceptical.

What’s it going to be like on this vessel for the three to nine months the Home Office believe it will take to process the claims? For eight years between 1997 and 2005, the prison ship HMP Weare was moored at the same location.

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