No Floating Prisons: Bibby Stockholm Barge

Legal Updates

This blog was originally published on 17 August 2023. It was updated on:

  • 23 November 2023 to provide general updates and add to the list of helpful resources. 
  • 13 February 2024 to reflect the guidance provided by the Asylum Support Tribunal on making a decision to move someone onto the Bibby Stockholm.

On the week of 7 August 2023, the first group of people to be housed on Bibby Stockholm moved onto the barge, though they were quickly moved off in a matter of days due to the presence of Legionella bacteria.

Unfortunately, several men were moved back onto the barge in October following a ‘system cleanse’ of the barge and its plumbing, and many others have had to re-board the barge since then too. It is estimated that over 135 men are currently on the barge.

The barge is currently docked in Portland Port, Dorset, where many members of the local community have opposed the housing of people seeking asylum there for different reasons, which has also caused divisions locally

This blog post will provide information about the barge and the concerns we have about it. There is an advice section at the end of this post for those who are or may know someone housed on the Bibby Stockholm.

In this blog, you will find the following information:

Why is the barge being used?

The Bibby Stockholm barge is being used as accommodation as part of  Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s plans to reduce the cost of asylum accommodation by housing people seeking asylum on barges instead of in hotels or dispersal accommodation. Currently, over 51,000 people are being housed in asylum hotels, which is costing the government around £6 million daily. The government believes they could save on the cost of asylum housing, at the expense of the safety and isolation of people seeking asylum. This has been disputed by a report on the Bibby Stockholm, by Reclaim the Sea and One Life to Live, which exposed that the Home Office can save less than £10 per person each day.

What are the concerns?

On 11 August 2023, a deadly bacteria called Legionella was found in the water system in the Bibby Stockholm barge. The Legionella bacteria can cause a serious lung infection, known as Legionnaires’ disease. According to The Guardian, the Home Office was told about the bacteria on the day that the first group of people boarded the barge – but it did not evacuate them immediately, and allowed more people to board. Although people were eventually evacuated from the barge after the bacteria was found, it is abysmal and beyond shocking that the health of people seeking asylum were risked to begin with.

There are concerns over housing people seeking asylum, many of whom have already faced trauma and made dangerous journeys by boat, on a floating prison. Around 20 people have been able to block their move from asylum hotels to the barge by claiming they have a severe fear of water. There is no doubt that living in what  is essentially a floating prison for an unspecified period of time while waiting for an asylum claim to be processed, with hundreds of strangers is a frightening and traumatic experience. There are also limitations on the amount of time people on the barge can be on land, and once leaving the barge, there are security check points. People seeking asylum need to feel safe and live in a comfortable environment, like everyone else.

Who has opposed the barge?

This ill-thought out plan has been met with universal condemnation from groups who work with people seeking asylum. 

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have also raised their concerns over the barge’s fire hazards in a letter written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Elsewhere, the barge has been referred to as a ‘floating Grenfell’.  They said: 

“The FBU believes fire safety standards are universal and apply to everyone…They also matter to us because fire and rescue is a humanitarian service, designed to protect everyone regardless of their circumstances or background. Fire does not discriminate and therefore neither should safety regulations.” 

In other areas where there are plans to house people seeking asylum in barges, local groups have mobilised to take action. In Tyneside, for example, people across the area, including residents and councillors, signed an open letter with Asylum Matters to the Port of Tyne calling on them to refuse to take part in the Home Office’s plans to house people seeking asylum on a barge. The letter stresses the harm that is caused by segregating people seeking asylum from the local community and the health risks on the barge.  Following this letter, the Port of Tyne said, “We would not be able to accommodate this facility at the port.” There has been similar successful opposition from local groups in Wirral and Teesside

Beyond Borders Totnes & District, in the South West of Devon, have been working with asylum seekers in hotels and building solidarity with them. They started a petition urging the government to rethink the plan to send people like the men they work with to the Bibby Stockholm barge, and instead develop strategies “that foster human respect, dignity and caring.” You can find the petition here.

Reclaim the Sea held a number of demonstrations and protests to campaign against the Bibby Stockholm and to say no to floating prisons. Some of these protests took place in front of the Home Office and in Falmouth, where the Bibby barge initially was docked. In response to the  government’s claims that the Bibby barge will save money, Reclaim the Sea said: “We don’t believe this vessel will do any of these things. And we believe that the human cost – to communities and asylum seekers – isn’t worth it, at any price”.  

The reaction and action against the Bibby Stockholm barge proves the power of radical solidarity. With this solidarity, we can fight against the hostile environment and build a better world for us all.

Asylum Support Tribunal Guidance

In the linked appeals of AW & AM & BG v Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Asylum Support Tribunal judge provided guidance to the Home Secretary when making a decision to move someone onto the barge.

The Home Secretary had stopped the section 95 asylum support of each of the individuals for alleged breaches of the conditions of their support (“moving to another property” and “live at the authorised address”).

As outlined by this Free Movement article:

The main issue for the tribunal to decide was whether the appellants had a reasonable excuse for their failure to comply with the condition that had been breached and whether that breach was “persistent and unequivocal”. In addition, the tribunal was asked to consider whether the decisions to stop support would leave the appellants destitute, in breach of their article 3 ECHR rights.

In making its decisions, the Home Office had focused on the appellants’ medical diagnoses and evidence, and failed to consider other factors which were also important.

The judge stated that three questions need to be answered when the Home Office is considering stopping someone’s section 95 support:

  • Has there been a breach of support conditions?
  • Was the breach persistent and unequivocal?
  • Was the breach without reasonable excuse?

In assessing whether there is a reasonable excuse, the burden of proof is on the Home Secretary to prove that there was a breach. The burden of proof is on the appellant to show that they had a reasonable excuse to breach it. You can read more about burdens and standards of proof in our Legal Update here.

In each of the 3 cases, the judge found that the Home Secretary must re-make his decision to stop section 95 support, and in doing so, consider “wider” circumstances affecting each person subjectively (this means their specific experience).

Where can I go for advice or support?

  • The Home Office has an Allocation of Accommodation Policy, which lists the criteria which would make an individual unsuitable to be moved onto the barge. Some of the criteria includes: disability, medical treatment and family ties. The suitability criteria is mentioned in the policy from page 15.
  • The Home Office has a Failure to Travel to Bibby Stockholm Vessel guidance document which outlines the procedure for notifying (from page 6) or moving someone onto the barge, and how to dispute a notice for being moved onto the barge. If someone receives a notice to  be moved onto Bibby, they will have 5 days to make representations (this is a letter outlining why they should not be moved onto the barge, along with supporting evidence – the more evidence, the better). You can read more about this from page 6 of the guidance document. 
  • If you receive a notice to be moved onto the Bibby Barge, and you have a lawyer, you should ask the lawyer to write a Pre-Action Protocol letter (this is a legal letter) to the Home Office to dispute the move. 
  • If you or someone you know have been moved to the barge, you they can message Care4Calais for by sending a Whatsapp message with your name and that you are on the Bibby Barge to this number: +447519773268. Please note that Care4Calais can only help with the accommodation issue, not anything related to asylum claims. 
  • Portland Global Friendship Group can provide destitution support locally to those who are on the barge, and they are also running events and activities for those on the barge five days a week. They are helping to connect the men on the barge with activities or volunteering opportunities in the local community, too. You can contact them on: +44 7495 194611 and you can donate to support them here.
  • Migrants Organise have drafted a guide to challenging a notice to be moved onto the barge which you can access and download here.

Right to Remain strongly opposes the Bibby Stockholm vessel, and all plans to house people seeking asylum on barges or any unsuitable accommodation. These are floating prisons with detention-like facilities and pose major mental and physical health risks to vulnerable people. People seeking safety need to be safe and welcomed into our communities. 

We will continue to update this post with any further information on the Bibby Stockholm barge and any other related news. Sign up to our newsletter so you can be the first to hear about any updates.

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