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UK to house 500 asylum seekers in barge despite criticism by rights groups

Britain has confirmed plans to hold hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants at a barge docked off the Dorset coast in southern England.

The Home Office said on Wednesday that the accommodation barge will be used “to reduce the unsustainable pressure on the UK’s asylum system and cut the cost to the taxpayer caused by the significant increase in Channel crossings”.

The move has been criticised by human rights groups for not providing adequate housing, while some lawmakers from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s own governing Conservative Party are concerned about the impact on local communities.

Along with Dorset residents, the local Conservative MP for the area, Richard Drax, has threatened legal action against his party because of the floatels – a term used for floating hotels.

As per the UK government estimates about 51,000 migrants are currently staying in 395 hotels at a cost of more than $7.4 million per day. 

The Home Office said the new type of accommodation will be “basic” and “is significantly cheaper than hotels.” 

The government did not provide a cost for the barge.

Britain’s interior ministry said the barge, called the Bibby Stockholm, has been leased by the government for an initial period of 18 months and will accommodate 500 single adult males while their claims are processed.

The ministry added that it was in discussions with other ports about the use of further vessels.

“We have to use alternative accommodation options, as our European neighbours are doing – including the use of barges and ferries to save the British taxpayer money and to prevent the UK becoming a magnet for asylum shoppers in Europe,” Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said.

“All accommodation will meet our legal obligations and we will work closely with the local community to address their concerns, including through financial support.”

The barge will provide “basic and functional” accommodation with healthcare provision and catering facilities as well as onboard security, the government said.

READ MORE: Rwanda is a ‘safe country’ to resettle migrants: British interior minister

Crackdown on asylum seekers

Sunak has made cracking down on migration one of his top priorities ahead of an election expected next year and has set out plans to bar the entry of asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the Channel.

The UK government introduced an illegal migration bill in early March that would allow for the detention and swift removal of anyone who enters the UK illegally.

If the bill is passed, the home secretary will have the power to detain and remove those arriving on boats to either their home country or a safe third country, such as Rwanda.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has so far been unable to confirm if the bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights.

Government data shows 201 migrants were detected crossing the Channel on Tuesday. The total number who arrived in 2022 was more than 45,000. 

Immigration Minister Jenrick confirmed reports from last week that three former military sites will be used to hold migrants and asylum seekers in “barracks” and “Portakabins.”

Jenrick complained of an “eye-watering £2.3 billion a year bill” for housing people as their claims are processed.

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