Wirral Port Operator Rejects Home Office Migrant Barge Plan

Wirral Port Operator Rejects Home Office Migrant Barge Plan
The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Falmouth docks in Cornwall, England, on May 31, 2023. (Matt Keeble/PA)
Lily Zhou

The operator of a port near Liverpool has said there’s no “conceivable scenario” where the Home Office can moor a barge to hold illegal immigrants owing to the lack of local support.

The Home Office, which is reportedly no longer considering the site, said it’s continuing to find “new alternative sites and vessels to accommodate migrants.”

The department first announced plans in April to berth a barge in Dorset to house around 500 single adult males while their asylum claims are processed.

Mick Whitley, Labour for Birkenhead, said last month that the Home Office had also approached Wirral Council about boarding up to 1,500 asylum seekers on a vessel berthed in Birkenhead.

The Labour MP condemned the plan, saying it’s “inhumane” to put them in what he called a “floating prison ship,” and said the news had “caused considerable concern” across his constituency.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick confirmed the port was being considered as a “potentially viable location,” and the Home Office was “seeking to engage the local authority, the local NHS, police, other emergency services, and other public agencies to help inform a final decision.”

He also said those being housed on the vessel would be free to leave to spend time on the shore while the process would be “carefully managed by the Home Office to ensure the safety of the migrants, community cohesion, and the impact on local town centres and high streets.”

The Wirral Peninsula town is opposite Liverpool across the River Mersey and is home to a ferry terminal that’s part of the Port of Liverpool.

Peel Ports Group, operator of The Port of Liverpool, on Saturday told the PA News Agency that local agencies won’t be able to help make the plan work.

A spokesman said the company has “consistently said throughout the process” that they could provide the berth, but “it was dependent on the necessary support from the local agencies.”

“Last week, we simply observed that we could not see any conceivable scenario where the local agencies are going to be able to provide the necessary support to make this solution work,” he said.

“Peel Ports remains committed to fulfilling its full statutory obligations to provide access to any vessel, provided it can do so safely and securely, and it has the available infrastructure.”

A view of the scene outside the Comfort Inn hotel on Belgrave Road, where the Home Office have reportedly asked a group of refugees to be accommodated four to a room, in Pimlico, central London, on June 2, 2023  (James Manning/PA Wire)
A view of the scene outside the Comfort Inn hotel on Belgrave Road, where the Home Office have reportedly asked a group of refugees to be accommodated four to a room, in Pimlico, central London, on June 2, 2023  (James Manning/PA Wire)

In an email to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson for Home Office said, "The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow and requires us to look at a range of accommodation options which offer better value for the British taxpayer than expensive hotels.

“This is why we continue to source new alternative sites and vessels to accommodate migrants and remain committed to working closely with all councils and key partners across the country, to manage the impact of using these sites,” the spokesperson said.

“Vessels have been used safely and successfully by both the Scottish and Dutch Governments over the past 18 months, and other European countries are also planning their use as temporary emergency accommodation.”

Dorset Drops Legal Challenge

It comes as Bibby Stockholm, the first accommodation barge the government has acquired, is set to arrive in Portland off the coast of Dorset.
Conservative MP for South Dorset Richard Drax in April accused the government of imposing the plan on his constituency with many questions being left unanswered.

Earlier this week, Dorset Council said it had considered taking legal action against the Home Office, but decided to give up because “based on specialist legal advice, and the experience other councils have had across the country, any legal action we take is unlikely to be successful and would incur high costs to Dorset taxpayers.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on June 5 that the first vessel was to arrive in Portland “in the next fortnight.”

Bibby Stockholm would initially be in place for 18 months while the plan would be kept under review.

Accommodation vessels are designed to provide temporary housing for the off-shore workforce such as oil drilling units.

According to promotional materials on the vessel’s operator’s website, there are 222 en-suite bedrooms on board, with a capacity of up to 506 people. The website also said there is a gym, a bar, a restaurant, and game rooms available.
A fact sheet (pdf) previously published by the government said the barge will be used to put up “single adult male asylum seekers aged 18 to 65 who would otherwise be destitute.”

Sunak has also said the government had acquired two more vessels that would accommodate another 1,000 people, but he hasn’t revealed where the vessels will be located.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said this week that Royal Docks Management Authority had rejected the Home Office’s proposal to berth a barge at its King George V Dock.

In his letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, he also voiced his “absolute opposition to the Government’s policy of housing asylum seekers on vessels.

Number of people smuggled into the UK on small boats. (Data Source: <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/irregular-migration-to-the-uk-year-ending-march-2023/irregular-migration-to-the-uk-year-ending-march-2023">Home Office</a>. Contains public sector information licensed under the <a href="https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/">Open Government Licence v3.0</a>)
Number of people smuggled into the UK on small boats. (Data Source: Home Office. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0)

Since 2018, Some 92,500 people have been smuggled into the UK in small boats across the English Channel, including 7,697 who arrived so far this year.

The government has said the increase meant some 51,000 destitute illegal immigrants are accommodated in hotels, incurring a cost of over £6 million a day, or £3 billion a year, on initial accommodation and hotels.

But its plan to use barges and disused military sites has been met with opposition from locals over concerns including health, safety, and impact on local development, with some councils threatening legal action against the Home Office.

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