A Labour MP has described the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge as a “recipe for disaster” after talking to some of the asylum seekers living on board.
Backbencher Lloyd Russell-Moyle visited community groups in Portland where he met some of those staying on board the controversial vessel which is docked at the Dorset island’s commercial port.
The MP for Brighton, Kemptown, said he was concerned after hearing that the occupants of the barge were being kept in “prison-like” conditions with several of the promised facilities being stripped out or not being provided.
The first asylum seekers were brought back to the Bibby Stockholm barge earlier this month, more than two months after it was evacuated following the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.
He described how the residents were unable to regularly leave the port as they were reliant on an hourly bus service to Portland and Weymouth which did not always turn up and was not sufficient for the current occupancy of about 100 men, which the Home Office says will rise to 500.
Mr Russell-Moyle said that the gym facilities on board had been stripped back to just two treadmills and even the basketball had been removed from the basketball court.
And he said the only educational sessions were held in Weymouth and were insufficient for the numbers living on the barge.
He told the PA news agency: “I heard how many of the facilities that were promised have not materialised and those that you have got in Portland are totally inadequate to support the barge
“We were told it wouldn’t be a floating prison, but you have people unable to freely come and go.
“We were told that local residents would get support for the influx of people and they haven’t.
“We were told that there would be educational activities on the barge for the people, there isn’t. So what we have is greatly disappointing.”
He added: “The gym has been stripped. There are the pictures that we all saw with a gym that was well-equipped, I was told all the weights and all the other facilities in the gym have been removed. In the basketball court, the basketball has been removed.”
Mr Russell-Moyle said there was meant to be an hourly bus service to Weymouth and Portland but added: “Very often it doesn’t turn up and when it does turn up, it is one bus, and once that bus is full, you have to wait for the next hour and there will be no additional buses put on.
“So when 500 people are in that facility, physically, the people will not be able to come and go every day. The numbers will not meet that.”
He said that internet on board the barge was also “patchy” making it difficult for the residents to keep in regular contact with their families and lawyers.
Mr Russell-Moyle added that he asked the residents he met about their average day and said: “They said, ‘We get up, we have food, we go back to our bedrooms. We go then for dinner and food, go back to the bedroom. Maybe we have tea later on in the evening, we then go back to the bedrooms’.
“That is their life, what an absolute waste. It isn’t even a prison lifestyle where you’re meant to have education, you’re meant to be doing activities, and there are going to be 500 people potentially doing that, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
He said that an asylum seeker previously housed in Brighton suffered an acute mental crisis on board the barge last week and had to be brought back to Sussex by the Home Office.
He said that this showed it was not suitable accommodation for “people who have come here through trauma”.
Mr Russell-Moyle said that Labour’s aim if they got into power would be to stop using barges and hotels by speeding up the application process.
He said: “We shouldn’t have people warehoused in barges and hotels. It’s a waste of human capital and resource.
“And that is why Keir Starmer said we would have 1,000 new application processors in a Labour government in the first year.”
Mr Russell-Moyle and fellow MP Nadia Whittome – who was unable to attend Monday’s visit to Portland – had written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman requesting access to the Bibby Stockholm but had not had any response.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We have welcomed visitors to view the Bibby Stockholm including local MPs and councillors, independent bodies and voluntary sector partners.
“The Bibby Stockholm is a place of residence which is why we limited visits to those who have a direct link to the site.
“All necessary tests including health, fire and water checks have been completed and are all satisfactory.”
A Home Office spokesperson added in a statement: “The Bibby Stockholm is part of the Government’s pledge to reduce the use of expensive hotels and bring forward alternative accommodation options which provide a more cost-effective, sustainable and manageable system for the UK taxpayer and local communities.
“The health and welfare of asylum seekers remains the utmost priority. We work continually to ensure the needs and vulnerabilities of those residing on the vessel are identified and met. This includes providing 24/7 welfare support.
“The Government is also providing substantial funding to local services to support them and minimise the impact on the local community. This includes working closely with Dorset Council and voluntary organisations to provide various services for asylum seekers.”