Government’s move to maximise barge’s capacity reignites fears of overcrowding and health hazards.
The Bibby Stockholm, a housing barge lying idle on the Dorset coast, is slated to welcome back migrants within hours as the Home Office intends to escalate the number of occupants onboard. The vessel, with a capacity of 464, is expected to see its numbers surge in the forthcoming weeks, starting with the return of 29 migrants on Thursday, October 19. This reinstatement comes following a more than two-month hiatus, necessitated by an evacuation order due to the detection of lethal legionella bacteria.
The reboarding will witness a slight reduction in the group size, as 10 former residents have secured alternative housing post the hurried evacuation earlier this year. However, the Home Office is undeterred in its aim to expand the barge’s population, thereby rekindling concerns over potential overcrowding. Following the initial group, the Government plans to introduce another batch of residents the succeeding day, progressively filling the Bibby Stockholm towards its maximum capacity.
This initiative is part of a broader strategy to transition migrant housing from commercial buildings to alternative sites, including disused RAF bases in Wethersfield and Scampton. The current practice of utilising hotels as temporary shelters for asylum seekers incurs an estimated expenditure of about £8 million daily. Despite the Government’s promotion of the Stockholm as a feasible housing solution, numerous entities have cautioned against its use for accommodating vulnerable newcomers.
Dr Amy Clair, from the University of Essex’s ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change, underscored the Government’s proposition to allocate rooms, barely larger than a prison cell, to two individuals. She elucidated that overcrowding is linked with an array of adverse health outcomes like “anxiety, depression and psychological distress.” Some migrants, burdened by existing mental health issues, have opted not to return to the barge.
In response to the outcry over the barge’s conditions, the Home Office has revised down the upper limit of occupants from 506 to 464 male-only migrants, asserting the absence of fire hazards onboard, which contradicts earlier warnings from the Fire Brigades’ Union labeling the barge a “potential deathtrap.”
The move to repopulate the Bibby Stockholm, albeit amidst reservations regarding overcrowding and the health and safety of its residents, underscores the Government’s steadfast approach to address the housing needs of migrants in a cost-effective manner. Source