Ministers are considering housing migrants on ferries and barges as they seek alternative accommodation to hotels for those being processed.
The Government is looking to cut costs by reducing the approximately £6.8 million a day it spends housing migrants and asylum seekers in hotels.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is expected to announce plans to house migrants at disused military bases on Wednesday, but these plans have drawn opposition from some MPs.
What policy is the Government considering?
i understands that the Home Office is considering using disused cruise ships or giant barges used for offshore construction projects to house migrants.
Sources have suggested that while it is the Government’s “direction of travel” to use ships for migrant accommodation, no vessels have actually been procured.
Ministers are reportedly already looking at possible vessels including a former cruise ship from Indonesia, which would be moored in south-west England.
The speculation comes as immigration minister Robert Jenrick is expected to announce plans to house migrants at disused military bases, rather than hotels, to save money.
Why is the Government considering housing migrants on disused ships?
The Government is under growing pressure to find alternative accommodation for asylum seekers to cut costs, as housing them in hotels is currently costing around £6.8 million a day.
According to the Home Office, nearly 400 hotels across the country are currently being used to accommodate more than 51,000 people across the UK.
The Times reports that a disused 40-year-old ferry could be bought from Italy for £6 million, housing 1,400 people in 141 cabins. There is also the option to buy a disused cruise ship, currently moored in Barbados, for £116 million, accommodating 2,417 people in 1,000 cabins.
Other proposals, such as housing asylum seekers in former military bases, have faced opposition from within Rishi Sunak’s own Cabinet.
Plans to use two disused military bases – RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, and MDP Wethersfield in Essex – for accommodation have faced opposition from local authorities, with council leaders in Essex taking legal action.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, the local MP for Braintree, Essex which covers MDP Wethersfield, has claimed that the military base is inappropriate as an asylum camp because of “the remote nature of the site, limited transport infrastructure and narrow road network”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously promised a “range of alternative sites” and stated that “nothing is excluded” as the Government considers accommodation to replace hotels.
Has this idea been proposed before?
The Government has considered the idea of accommodating migrants on old cruise ships in a bid to deter crossings in the past.
Mr Sunak proposed housing illegal immigrants on cruise ships during the 2022 Conservative leadership campaign, saying it would help end the “hotel farce”.
Downing Street later confirmed he had dropped the idea, with his spokesperson claiming in October last year that he was “not aware of any plans” to use cruise ships.
But it wasn’t the first time he had suggested the idea. Mr Sunak first floated it in 2020, when it was reported that the Government was considering processing asylum seekers in decommissioned ferries off the UK coastline – but the idea was said to have been slapped down by officials.
Whitehall sources told The Times “it was laughed off the table” across government at civil service and at Cabinet level and “quickly ditched in favour of using other countries”.
Other ideas considered at the time included sending migrants to centres on remote islands in the south Atlantic or processing them at facilities in Moldova, Morocco or Papua New Guinea. Former home secretary Priti Patel ultimately launched the Government’s Rwanda plan instead.
Could the Government actually house asylum seekers on disused ships?
Mr Sunak was initially forced to drop plans to house migrants on old cruise ships because government lawyers had warned the idea would breach the UK’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
The convention prohibits countries from detaining people claiming asylum, but it has been suggested that this could be circumvented by classing disused ships as “hotels” before using them to house asylum seekers.
There have also been comparisons between these proposals and the use of ships by the UK prison services.
Between 1997 and 2006 a ship dubbed HMP Weare was moored off the coat of Dorset and housed around 400 prisoners in a bid to manage prison overcrowding.
Conditions on the vessel were heavily criticised after its closure, with those operating it citing the high running costs for the ship, challenges supplying it and lack of open-air space for prisoners.
It was described as “oppressive and cramped” and “literally and metaphorically a container” by the chief inspector of prisons shortly before its closure.
In Scotland, Ukrainian refugees have been living on a cruise ship in Glasgow since September last year.
The MS Ambition has been home to about 1,170 people, including 420 children, who are to be rehomed when the Scottish government’s contract with the vessel comes to an end on 31 March.
The contract for a second ship, the MS Victoria I docked in Edinburgh, has been extended by five months.