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Tories’ barge plan will mean hell for refugees

The government will unleash more misery for refugees as ministers now  plan to cram them onto old and overcrowded ships, writes Sam Ord
Issue 2850
refugees anti racism racism

Protesters say refugees welcome on the Stand Up To Racism demonstration in London last month (Picture: Guy Smallman) 

The Tory government wants to use a floating prison to cage refugees. The Home Office confirmed last week it will house about 500 male asylum seekers on a giant barge off the coast of Dorset.

The Bibby Stockholm barge was previously described as an “oppressive environment” by the Dutch government, which had been housing asylum seekers on the boat.  There were reports of at least one death on board while the Dutch state used it.

The Tories plan for the barge to be moored in the port of Portland in Dorset.  The vessel has 222 “basic and functional” single rooms across three floors, and the Home Office is “exploring the use of further vessels to accommodate migrants”.

It’s part of a further programme to discourage those fleeing wars, climate change, political repression and more from reaching safety in Britain. In prime minister Rishi Sunak’s words, “It’s part of our broader plan to stop the boats.”

Alongside the barge the Tories hope to keep refugees in disused army bases and deport thousands to Rwanda, Africa—a country plagued with human rights abuses.

Christina Marriott, from the British Red Cross, said, “People seeking asylum need stability, to be able to maintain contact with their loved ones and to feel safe.  “Docked barges, which are isolated from the wider community, do not offer the supportive environment that people coping with the trauma of having to flee their homes need.”

She called for a “more effective and compassionate asylum system”. The plan has upset some Dorset Tories, because they don’t want any refugees on the site.

The local Tory MP is Richard Drax, whose family has historical links with slavery in the plantations of the Caribbean. He said that people in the port town had not been consulted.

And as the refugees will be free to enter Portland, Drax added, “There will be no control over where they go, what they do, in a very sensitive seaside town.”

Security will be positioned on board, not so much to keep the refugees safe but to minimise disruption to local communities, according to the Home Office. Drax hopes to pursue legal routes to ensure refugees aren’t housed in his backyard. 

And more than a third of people from ethnic and religious minorities have experienced racially motivated physical or verbal abuse, according to the biggest and most comprehensive survey of race inequality in Britain for more than a quarter of a century.

The survey found “strikingly high” levels of exposure to abuse across a wide range of ethnic minority groups with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people particularly affected. Nissa Finney, professor of human geography at the University of St Andrews, who led the study, said it showed racism was “part of the daily lives” of people from ethnic minorities. 

“The UK is immeasurably far from being a racially just society,” she said.

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