Barge housing for asylum-seekers 'not a death trap,' asserts UK official

Barge housing for asylum-seekers 'not a death trap,' asserts UK official

British government's controversial; plan to start moving asylum seekers to Bibby Stockholm barge was delayed on Monday amid security concerns

By Burak Bir

LONDON (AA) – A British barge set to house hundreds of asylum-seekers will not be "a death trap," a UK Cabinet minister asserted on Wednesday.

"This actual ship was previously used by Germany to house migrants, there's no reason why it wouldn't be absolutely safe,” Grant Shapps, secretary of state for energy security and net zero, said of the controversial plans to house asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge.

His remarks to reporters after the government's plan to start moving asylum seekers to the barge was delayed amid security concerns on Monday.

The Home Office had been planning to send the first 50 migrants to the barge moored at Portland Port in Dorset in the country’s southwest on Tuesday. The plan aims to house a total of 500 single male asylum seekers for at least the next 18 months.

The Times of London reported earlier that the plan was delayed after fears the vessel could become a "floating Grenfell," referring to the 2017 fire in London’s Grenfell Tower apartment building that claimed 72 lives.

"Ships are used to transport people all the time and there's no inherent reason why that would be the case. That's actually why these final safety checks are being carried out," said Shapps.

"It certainly won't be a death trap," he added.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also defended the plan, saying the Bibby Stockholm is not a "shambles."

"There is a barge here, people are going to be put on it, which will ease pressure in local communities," said Sunak.

- 'Cruel and reckless approach'

Separately, the Fire Brigades Union on Wednesday wrote to Home Secretary Suella Braverman to raise concerns over fire safety in asylum seeker accommodation, including the Bibby Stockholm.

The union reiterated its concerns regarding "a potential lack of ingress and exit points," saying it was originally built to house 222 people but is now expected to house more than 500.

"The government has already scrapped vital fire safety measures for asylum seeker accommodation. Now, it wants to put more than 500 people onto an off-shore barge designed to hold around 200," the union's Assistant General Secretary Ben Selby said in a letter.

"This is a cruel and reckless approach to the welfare of asylum seekers, and puts the safety of firefighters at risk," he added.

According to the government, facilities such as the Bibby Stockholm are "considerably more cost-effective than hotels."

Plans call for single adult men age 18 to 65 who are currently staying at hotels to be sent to the facility.

Sunak named tackling small boat crossings as one of his five priorities after over 45,000 migrants arrived in the country last year by crossing the English Channel.

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