UK government under pressure over refugee barge after legionella found

UK government under pressure over refugee barge after legionella found
The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge is pictured moored to the quayside at Portland Port. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 13 August 2023
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UK government under pressure over refugee barge after legionella found

UK government under pressure over refugee barge after legionella found
  • ‘Incompetent’ Home Office failed to complete basic tests, says town mayor
  • Asylum-seekers removed from Bibby Stockholm as Home Office seeks alternative accommodation 

LONDON: UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman is facing mounting pressure to abandon the controversial plan of housing asylum-seekers on a barge following the discovery of legionella bacteria on the vessel, the Guardian reported on Saturday. 

This comes as ministers raise their concerns that contractors knew there were traces of the bacteria on the Bibby Stockholm on Monday when the first asylum-seekers boarded the vessel, which is moored in Portland port, Dorset.

Home Office sources said tests for legionella were conducted on July 25, with lower levels of traces identified on Monday when the first asylum-seekers boarded the barge.

Carralyn Parkes, the mayor of Portland, expressed astonishment that a routine check, conducted by councils daily, was not carried out promptly.

“I am shocked and horrified by the incompetence of this government. We were told that all of these checks had been done,” she told the Guardian.

Parkes added: “Portland town council has to do legionnaires’ disease checks on public lavatories and we do that competently. And yet the Home Office, which is supposed to be helping to run the country, has failed to complete basic checks.”

Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock described the lack of proper checks as “extraordinary.”

“It’s absolutely right that the barge has to be evacuated, but what a complete and utter shambles. This is a catalog of catastrophe, and government ministers should hang their heads in shame,” he told Sky News.

The Home Office first learned about the early traces on Wednesday, but still sent another six people on to the barge the following day, sources confirmed to the Guardian.

However, after consulting with the UK Health Security Agency, these individuals were removed later that evening, and all others were evacuated on Friday.

Legionnaires’ disease can be contracted if individuals inhale small droplets of water containing the bacteria, leading to lung infections.

None of the asylum-seekers on the barge have tested positive for the disease so far, but it can take up to 16 days for symptoms to appear. 

A leaked Home Office letter, obtained by the Guardian, reveals that asylum-seekers have been informed that they will be tested if they show symptoms such as dry coughs, confusion and diarrhea.

The Home Office clarified that environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm indicated the presence of legionella bacteria, necessitating further investigation. 

A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian: “The health and welfare of asylum-seekers remains of the utmost priority. All asylum-seekers accommodated on the Bibby Stockholm have now been disembarked as a precaution and moved to alternative accommodation.

“The Home Office and our contractors are following all protocol and advice from Dorset council’s environmental health team, UK Health Security Agency and Dorset NHS who we are working closely with.”

Meanwhile, the Home Office said that the samples related only to the water system on the barge and there was no health risk to the wider Portland community.

Fire Brigades Union  Assistant General Secretary Ben Selby said the government had ignored its concerns over health and safety. 

“The Fire Brigades Union warned the home secretary that forcibly holding migrants on this barge was a huge health and safety risk,” Selby told the Guardian.

“We wrote to Suella Braverman more than a week ago to demand a meeting to discuss these issues. We have had no response to that letter,” he said.

Nicola David from the NGO One Life to Live, which conducted research highlighting the unsuitability of the barge for housing asylum-seekers, emphasized the need for urgent answers from the government, holding ministers ultimately responsible.

David told the Guardian: “There are too many private companies involved in the barge deal and they are not experienced in providing accommodation for asylum-seekers. 

“Tragically, today the asylum-seekers were the last to know about what was going on. This was Suella Braverman’s baby, but when she should be answering questions about what went wrong, she is nowhere to be seen.”

The Home Office is reportedly looking for alternative accommodation for the asylum-seekers.
 


Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video

Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video
Updated 28 May 2024
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Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video

Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video
  • Labour, if elected, would recognize Palestinian statehood, says Angela Rayner

LONDON: Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the UK’s Labour Party, has promised that her party will do everything in its power to ease the suffering in Gaza as it bids to regain Muslim voters’ support, a leaked video surfacing on social media has revealed.

The footage was first reported by the political blog Guido Fawkes, which claimed to have obtained the leaked tape from a meeting in Ashton-under-Lyne, Rayner’s constituency.

The MP is seen appealing to voters upset with the party’s stance on Israel’s assault on Gaza, The Telegraph reported.

Rayner — claiming she worked “day and night” to get three British doctors out of Rafah and is now attempting to secure aid for the enclave — said: “I promise you, the Labour Party, including myself, is doing everything we can, because nobody wants to see what’s happening.”

She acknowledged the party’s current inability to halt the fighting, admitting that Labour’s influence would be “limited,” even if it came to power after July’s general election.

Rayner added: “Only last week the Labour Party were supporting the ICC (International Criminal Court). The Conservatives didn’t support the ICC, so with this general election on that issue, we can’t affect anything when we’re not in government.

“And I’ll be honest with you, if Labour gets into government, we are limited. I will be honest. I’m not going to promise you … because (Joe) Biden, who’s the US (president), who has way more influence, has only got limited influence in that.

“And Qatar, Saudi Arabia, all of these people, we are all working to stop what’s happening at the moment; we want to see that. So I promise you, that’s what we want to see.”

Rayner also promised that, if Labour was elected, the party would recognize Palestinian statehood.

She added: “If Labour gets into power, we will recognize Palestine. I will push not only to recognize … there is nothing to recognize at the moment, sadly. It’s decimated.

“We have to rebuild Palestine; we have to rebuild Gaza. That takes more than just recognizing it.”

Gaza has been a divisive issue for Labour since Oct. 7, with reports revealing that Muslim voters have abandoned the party as a result of what they perceive as its politicians enabling the war.

The Telegraph found that Labour’s support had dropped in local elections in areas with large Muslim populations, including Oldham in Greater Manchester, where the party lost control of the council in a surprise defeat.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has expressed his determination to re-establish trust among those who have abandoned his party due to his handling of the Gaza war.

However, when probed on particular commitments, he remained vague.

Rayner said in the video: “I know that people are angry about what’s happening in the Middle East.

“If my resignation as an MP now would bring a ceasefire, I would do it. I would do it if I could effect change.”

However, she said such an eventuality was not “in my gift” due to the “failure of the international community.”

In response to the footage, Nigel Farage, Reform UK’s honorary president, accused Rayner of “begging” for the Muslim vote, The Telegraph reported.


12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains
Updated 28 May 2024
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12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains
  • Several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides, and all schools were shut
  • India’s weather office warned of extremely heavy rains in northeastern states on Tuesday

Guwahati: Torrential rains in the wake of a powerful cyclone caused the collapse of a quarry in India’s Mizoram state killing 12 people, government officials said Tuesday.

“So far 12 bodies have been found, we are looking for more,” deputy commissioner of Aizawl district Nazuk Kumar told AFP.

Rescue efforts in the quarry were being hampered by “heavy rains,” police director general Anil Shukla said, NDTV news network reported.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma offered compensation to families of the victims of the “landslide due to Cyclone Remal.”

“I pray for the success of rescue and relief operations and wish a speedy recovery of the injured,” India’s President Droupadi Murmu said on social media.

In Mizoram, several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides. All schools were shut and government employees asked to work from home.

India’s weather office has issued warnings of extremely heavy rainfall across Mizoram and other northeastern states on Tuesday.

In India’s neighboring Assam state, one person was killed and heavy rains had cut the power supply, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a statement.

The cyclone made landfall in low-lying Bangladesh and neighboring India on Sunday evening with fierce gales and crashing waves.

Overall, at least 38 people died in the cyclone or storms in its wake.

In India, eight people died in West Bengal state, officials said Tuesday, updating an earlier toll of six, taking the total killed in the country to at least 21.

In neighboring Bangladesh, which bore the brunt of the cyclone that made landfall on Sunday, at least 17 people died, according to the disaster management office and police.


Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine
Updated 28 May 2024
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Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine
  • Radek Sikorski made the comments in an interview published Tuesday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily
  • “We should not exclude any option. Let Putin be guessing as to what we will do”

WARSAW: Poland’s foreign minister says the NATO nation should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine and should keep Russian President Vladimir Putin in suspense over whether such a decision would ever be made.
Radek Sikorski made the comments in an interview published Tuesday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
“We should not exclude any option. Let Putin be guessing as to what we will do,” Sikorski said when asked whether he would send Polish troops to Ukraine.
Sikorski said he has gone to Ukraine with his family to deliver humanitarian aid.
But a spokesperson for Poland’s Defense Ministry, Janusz Sejmej, told Polish media on Tuesday he had “no knowledge of that” when asked about a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine suggesting Poland might send troops to Ukraine.
The idea of sending foreign soldiers to Ukraine, which is battling Russian military aggression, was floated earlier this year in France, but no country, including Poland, has publicly embraced it.
Poland supports neighboring Ukraine politically and by providing military equipment and humanitarian aid.


Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy

Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy
Updated 28 May 2024
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Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy

Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy
  • The infant girl, her mother and 4-year-old sister were in an unseaworthy boat laden with migrants that had set off from Sfax in Tunisia
  • SOS Humanity workers aboard its “Humanity 1” vessel found many of the migrants exhausted

LAMPEDUSA, Italy: The body of a five-month-old baby was found on Tuesday when some 85 migrants heading for Italy from Tunisia were rescued from distress at sea, according to a Reuters witness.
The infant girl, her mother and 4-year-old sister were in an unseaworthy boat laden with migrants that had set off from Sfax in Tunisia two days earlier bound for Italy, according to charity group SOS Humanity.
SOS Humanity workers aboard its “Humanity 1” vessel found many of the migrants exhausted and suffering from seasickness and fuel burns as they were rescued before dawn on Tuesday, the group said in a statement.
Some 185 migrants rescued in separate operations this week, including the stricken boat overnight, were being taken aboard “Humanity 1” to the port of Livorno in northwest Italy. Another 120 migrants were transferred by coast guard boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa in the southern Mediterranean.
Tunisia is grappling with a migrant crisis and has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict further south in Africa as well as the Middle East in hopes of a better life in Europe.
Italy has sought to curb migrant arrivals from Africa, making it harder charity ships to operate in the Mediterranean, limiting the number of rescues they can carry out and often forcing them to make huge detours to bring migrants ashore.


Putin says Ukraine should hold presidential election

Putin says Ukraine should hold presidential election
Updated 28 May 2024
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Putin says Ukraine should hold presidential election

Putin says Ukraine should hold presidential election
  • Zelensky has not faced an election despite the expiry of his term

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Ukraine should hold a presidential election following the expiry of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s five-year term.
Zelensky has not faced an election despite the expiry of his term, something he and Kyiv’s allies deem the right decision in wartime. Putin said the only legitimate authority in Ukraine now was parliament, and that its head should be given power.