A Government contractor has broken ranks and urged the Home Office to reconsider plans to house asylum seekers on barges, while another warns they don’t want to work on the controversial policy due to the “reputational risks”.
Migrant Help, which has a contract with the Government to provide support to people going through the asylum system, said it “strongly urged” ministers to scrap the plans.
Other firms used by the Government are believed to be hesitant to work with the Home Office due to the controversy surrounding the policy. One major Government outsourcer told i that taking a contract to run the barges was “not worth the reputational risk” but that they “don’t want to put our head above the parapet” by speaking out.
“It’s a tough financial environmental and people are bidding for stuff they wouldn’t usually, but many contractors will stay away from anything to do with the barges,” the source said.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman is expected to unveil plans to house around 500 asylum seekers on board a three-storey barge in Dorset’s Portland Harbour, as part of the Government’s efforts to end the use of expensive asylum seeker hotels and deter Channel crossings.
The Bibby Stockholm vessel was previously used in the Netherlands to house about 500 asylum seekers in the early 2000s.
The plan has seen a major backlash from residents, with local Tory MP Richard Drax telling i he was preparing a potential legal challenge after his constituency was selected to host the barge “without consultation”.
A spokesperson for Migrant Help said “as a charity that has been working for 60 years to support people affected by exploitation and displacement, Migrant Help strongly believes that everybody deserves to feel safe and have their human rights protected.
“It is so important that people seeking asylum, many of whom will have been through extremely disturbing experiences before arriving in the UK, are provided with the same care, safety and compassion as anyone else. We would hope that this is a consideration when identifying potential accommodation for those escaping wars and persecution to ensure that it does not create further hardship for already traumatised people. Therefore, we would strongly urge the government to reconsider this proposal.”
The organisation doesn’t own or run asylum accommodation in the UK, but does “support people seeking asylum in raising issues and complaints with their accommodation providers.” One industry source told i that the statement from Migrant Help was “highly unusual”.
Local officials say they were not consulted on the plans, which are expected to be announced later on Wednesday.
Some politicians are concerned about the impact of the barges on tourism and local infrastructure, warning that the Dorset area in particular doesn’t have the capacity to support new arrivals.
There are also concerns among Tory MPs and local police forces that the plans could turn their constituencies into hotbeds for far-right activism.
Conservative MP for Gainsborough told i that the area had “already had the far-right worming around our constituency” with activists “deliberately stirring up anti-migrant feeling.”
“We’ve been told nothing about the security of local people. So of course I’m worried. There are anti-migrant groups who deliberately stir up this stuff – and they’re already here,” he said.
Anti-migrant protesters recently targeted RAF Scampton, the former UK air base which has also been unveiled as a new asylum seeker housing site.