The British government has provoked a fierce backlash from local residents after announcing plans to house up to 500 asylum seekers on a barge to be docked in Portland, Dorset.
The Home Office has agreed to utilize the Bibby Stockholm barge as a migrant accommodation center, and is reportedly paying the local council £3,500 per person to mitigate the financial burden on local authorities.
It is the first location announced in line with the government’s plan to relocate some of the 52,000 migrants currently living in hotels across the U.K., which is reportedly costing more than £6 million a day, to military bases and disused ferries.
The barge is owned by Bibby Marine Limited, a company that offers floating accommodation described as “luxury living on board.” The Bibby Stockholm barge has 222 bedrooms and can house up to 506 guests. It comes equipped with Wi-Fi, a gym, a bar, a restaurant, and a games room with darts and pool tables.
Local Conservative MP, Richard Drax, has criticized his own government’s decision, claiming the barge has been “dumped on our door” by the Home Office. He refused to rule out legal action against the department.
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“Every option’s being looked at including legal action,” Drax said. “We want to get this consigned to the dustbin before anything’s signed. We want to activate ourselves and say, ‘Look Home Secretary, sorry, this is not the right place, can you please cancel this?'”
Drax raised security concerns about housing such a large number of new arrivals together in close proximity and highlighted the area does not have the police resources to handle any problems that may arise.
He also questioned the impact such a move would have on the tourist industry, telling local media, “This is an extremely sensitive area which relies heavily on summer trade, I cannot see how this is going to be anything but detrimental.”
Commenting on the news, conservative broadcaster Nigel Farage tweeted: “500 migrants have arrived at Dover in the last 2 days alone. Rishi Sunak will need many more barges to keep up!”
Local residents, on both sides of the asylum debate, have also expressed their anger at the decision.
One reader of Dorset Live wrote: “This is an abhorrent idea. These people are escaping goodness knows what atrocities & deserve to be housed properly.
“The vast majority will have their asylum applications accepted. Rather than sticking them on a barge we should process their applications in a timely manner. Better yet allow them to work whilst their applications are being considered.”
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Another added: “We need to all stand up and fight this lunatic idea before its too late and we lose our only income from tourists. The government are so useless and have systematically ruined our country.”
One local resident approached by Sky News told the broadcaster: “Portland has always been so laid back. I think they’ve chosen it as an easy option but I think you’re going to find a big uproar against this.
Another questioned the lack of public services available to existing residents. “Two doctors’ surgeries here. Those of us who live here now can’t get an appointment for over two weeks.”
“We just don’t want it here really, a lot of the locals,” a third added. “The locals are being forgotten about, the homeless are being forgotten about.”
Any location announced by the government is likely to be met with stiff opposition by locals and their representatives. Major opposition has already been reported to the government’s plan to transform the former air force base of the Dambusters in Lincolnshire into a migrant detention center, a move that prompted dozens of historians to pen an open letter to the Home Office expressing their disgust at the idea; more than 50,000 people also signed a petition in protest.