LONDON: A giant offshore barge has arrived in the UK to be used to house asylum-seekers.
The 222-bedroom Bibby Stockholm vessel is currently on its way to the port of Falmouth to be repurposed and updated to accommodate up to 500 male migrants.
It will be used over the next 18 months as part of efforts to improve the UK’s asylum-seeker processing measures, providing “basic” shelter, food, healthcare, and security at “significantly cheaper” rates than the current system of hotels, the British Home Office said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak previously suggested the UK was spending around £6 million ($7.57 million) a day on mainland accommodation for tens of thousands of asylum-seekers.
The cost of maintaining and running the three-storey barge, which will be situated off Portland Port, will come to approximately £20,000 per day, when staffing, facilities, and renting the area are taken into account.
The plans have drawn criticism in the UK, including from human rights campaigners and local Conservative MP Richard Drax, who told Sky News the “floatel” had been “dumped on our door” without consultation with local residents or the council.
Drax previously warned the site of the barge was a “very, very restricted area” and that the local police force was “very small,” and would struggle to fulfil its duties with such a large number of incoming people.
He warned that the local tourism economy could be affected by the presence of the barge, describing the area as a “summer resort dependent almost entirely on visitors and tourists.”
The barge was previously used to house asylum-seekers in the Netherlands, who described it as an “oppressive environment,” but its operator, Bibby Marine Ltd., said it had been refurbished since then.
Portland Port Chief Executive Officer Bill Reeves said: “We encourage everyone in the community to approach this with an open mind and help us show other areas just how successful this type of initiative can be, both for the migrants and the local community.”
The UK has so far received around 6,000 people who crossed the English Channel illegally in small boats claiming asylum. Last year, at least 45,755 made the trip from northern France.