UK High Court upholds Home Office plan to house asylum seekers on residential barge

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The UK Home Office announced plans Monday to return asylum seekers to the Bibby Stockholm barge next week following an August evacuation of the barge over legionella bacteria being found in its water supply. Portland mayor and local councillor Carralyn Parkes attempted to incite a judicial review into move but was rejected by the High Court on Wednesday.

Parkes raised PS25,000 to bring this case, with over 900 people donating. Her reasoning for the challenge, as explained on the fundraising site, is as follows:

If [the Home Office had] applied for planning permission, they would have had to consult with local people – but we never got the right to have our say. I also believe that planning permission would have been refused. I think that containing people on the barge is an inhumane way to treat those fleeing from war, conflict or persecution. The people who will be placed on the barge are NOT ILLEGAL because their asylum claims have already started to be processed by the Home Office. These people are asking for our protection, not our cruelty.

Her lawyer Alex Goodman also raised concerns about whether or not it was a “breach of planning control,” along with raising concerns that “segregating non-British people” is associated with “racial segregation.” Government lawyers claimed that the local planning authority did not think planning permission was required, that the claim was “out of time” and “without merit,” and that there was no “general principle” that housing “non-British asylum seekers” together on a vessel was unlawful under a public sector equality duty. The High Court found that there was no arguable case.

The 39 previous occupants have been informed that they are being moved on to the Bibby Stockholm on October 19 now that the water has been found to be cleared of contamination. The Home Office emphasized that asylum seekers on board “are not being detained under immigration powers and this is not detention accommodation.” That said, the Home Office did state that they need to “sign in and sign out of the site” when leaving and returning for their safety.

The asylum seekers who lived on the barge previously protested about the “prison-like” living conditions and their desire to not return to the barge. Two people who had lived there in August wrote in The Guardian:

The message we’d like people to know is this: we are tired of being treated like this. We cannot cope with these conditions. We are all victims of a game that is being played by politicians… We are people escaping torture, persecution and imprisonment… we hoped to find safety in the UK. … On board, although none of us are criminals, we were constrained by the tight security, and we felt far removed from normal life.

The government factsheet on the Bibby Stockholm claims, “It will reduce the reliance on expensive hotels and deliver a more orderly, cost effective and sustainable asylum accommodation system… cut[ting] the cost to the taxpayer caused by the significant increase in Channel crossings.” However, the two asylum seekers who previously lived on board stated, “The whole thing is a political show. They say they want to reduce the cost of the asylum system, but this boat and the way we have been dealt with must have cost a fortune. At the moment there are 39 asylum seekers here, and there are 20 staff.” A briefing co-published by non-profits One Life to Live and Reclaim the Sea found that “not only the Bibby Stockholm is extremely unlikely to reduce the cost of hotels, but that it will in fact be an additional cost.”

More occupants are set to move onto the barge in October, as it is designed to house up to 500 adult males whilst their asylum claims are being processed.