Prison-like Bibby Stockholm “Death Trap” Barge Is UK’s Latest Move To Torment Asylum Seekers

Geneva – In its cruel quest for
illegitimate destinations for asylum seekers, the UK is
forcing even disabled asylum seekers and victims of torture
on board the prison-like “Bibby Stockholm” barge, warned
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement, urging the
British government to respect and guarantee the human right
to adequate housing in peace, security, and
dignity.

Authorities’ evacuation of asylum seekers
from the barge following the discovery of Legionella
bacteria in the onboard water system confirms fears about
the serious humanitarian consequences that may befall
migrants and asylum seekers when they are housed in places
with inadequate health measures. Euro-Med Monitor emphasised
the importance of the UK government abandoning plans to
return migrants and asylum seekers to the barge or any other
location that could endanger their health or human
dignity.

The first group of 15 asylum seekers boarded
the infamous huge and prison-like Bibby Stockholm barge on
Monday as part of the government’s alleged efforts to
reduce the cost of asylum accommodation. Moored in Dorset,
Southern England, the Home Office anticipates that the
three-storey vessel will house up to 506 single men aged
18-65 while they await the outcome of their asylum
applications, and is explicitly excluding several categories
of vulnerable people.

According to internal guidance,
the barge must not house disabled or elderly individuals,
victims of torture, rape, or other serious forms of
physical, sexual, or psychological violence, people with
complex health needs such as tuberculosis or other
infectious diseases, or anyone with serious mental health
issues. The Home Office also barred anyone at risk of
“serious self-harm” or with a “history of disruptive
behaviour”. Yet in breach of its own rules as well as
international law, among the first asylum seekers that the
Home Office attempted to put on board the Bibby Stockholm
were disabled people, victims of modern slavery and other
forms of torture, and unsurprisingly, several migrants who
have suffered traumatic experiences at sea.

Two
partially-sighted persons and some migrants with phobias of
water were issued transfer orders that have already been
successfully challenged by lawyers, as the ministerial
department has been forced to reverse decisions on the cases
of at least 20 people so far after the intervention of legal
representatives. Nonetheless, the barge is not an adequate
form of housing for anyone; it is simply not a safe shelter
at all.

The UK Fire Brigades Union has
written
to Home Secretary Suella Braverman to raise
concerns over fire safety on the Bibby Stockholm, citing its
narrow corridors and doorways, lack of ingress and exit
points, and increased occupancy, and describing the barge as
a “death
trap
”. Similarly, the chief executive of the UK Health
Security Agency has warned that respiratory infections are
likely to spread in such cramped spaces.

It was also
recently
discovered
that the forcible transfer of asylum seekers
from hotels to the Bibby Stockholm will not result in
savings, but on the contrary will in fact incur additional
costs. “The government’s decision to move asylum seekers
onto an unsafe, isolated barge doesn’t come from an intent
to cut the costs of asylum accommodation, but rather as part
of the recently passed Illegal
Migration Bill
criminalising small boat migrants,”
said Michela Pugliese, Asylum and Migration Researcher at
Euro-Med Monitor. She called the decision an attempt to
deter the migrants’ arrivals by any means necessary, and
create a hostile environment for them in the
UK.

“Due to each asylum seeker’s recent history of
potentially highly traumatic events, particularly
surrounding high waves and salty waters, they should not be
forced onto a giant, floating, prison-like barge with
hundreds of other people, for multiple months,” Pugliese
added. She stressed that “vulnerability is not always
visible or easy to detect”, and that even migrants who do
not appear vulnerable upon arrival are likely to become so
due to time spent onboard the barge experiencing
marginalisation, isolation from civil society, and other
disadvantages like lack of employment options, health-care
services, and social facilities.

The infamous case of
the Bibby Stockholm is not an isolated incident, but
evidence of the government’s wider search for additional
accommodation sites inside the UK, such as disused military
bases and former prisons, and even outside of the UK and the
European continent. Indeed, the Home Office has revived
previously dropped plans to send asylum seekers to Ascension
Island, a remote British overseas territory in the South
Atlantic Ocean, located 6,000 kilometres from Europe, if its
separate plan to deport
asylum seekers to Rwanda
fails.

Braverman had
already planned to start deporting people to Rwanda on
flights last year, but the plans were forced to a halt after
being ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal over flaws in
Rwanda’s asylum system. A final verdict by the UK Supreme
Court is expected in late autumn, but in the meanwhile,
similarly externalised locations are being considered
including Ascension Island, Cyprus, Ghana, Morocco, Namibia,
Nigeria, and a British military base in Cyprus. Niger was on
the list prior to the July coup, showing that the whole
roster of “Plan B spots” is far from a realistic,
sustainable, and ethical way to manage the arrivals and
asylum requests of migrants in the UK.

Euro-Med Human
Rights Monitor calls on the UK to reverse its plan to
forcibly house asylum seekers on the prison-like barge Bibby
Stockholm and work to accommodate them in a manner that
respects their rights and dignity, as enshrined in
international law and particularly in the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which
UK has been bound since 1976; and to guarantee asylum
seekers’ human right to adequate housing, acknowledging
its central importance for the enjoyment of all economic,
social, and cultural
rights.

© Scoop Media

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