LONDON (AP) — A small group of asylum-seekers was moved Monday onto a barge moored in southern England as the U.K. government tries to cut the cost of sheltering people seeking protection in the country.
Fifteen people were transferred to the Bibby Stockholm, a floating hostel that will ultimately house up to 500 men, from other sites around the country, according to Cheryl Avery, director for asylum accommodation for the Home Office.
More were expected to arrive later as authorities seek to reduce the number of asylum-seekers housed in expensive hotel rooms that were requisitioned on an emergency basis as the number of arrivals has surged in recent years.
Avery said there had been some “minor legal challenges” to the transfers, but wouldn’t elaborate.
A charity for refugees, Care4Calais, said lawyers who intervened got transfers canceled for about 20 asylum-seekers.
“Amongst our clients are people who are disabled, who have survived torture and modern slavery and who have had traumatic experiences at sea,” said Steve Smith, the group’s CEO. “To house any human being in a ‘quasi floating prison’ like the Bibby Stockholm is inhumane.”
The barge, which is owned by UK-based Bibby Marine, is normally used to provide temporary housing for workers when local accommodation isn’t available. With three stories of closely packed bedrooms, the barge resembles a college dormitory, though the rooms are utilitarian. It also includes a kitchen, dining area, common rooms and laundry facilities.
The Bibby Stockholm is moored in Portland Port on the south coast of England, where some locals have opposed the plan because of concern about the impact on the small surrounding community, which already has a shortage of medical services and is connected to the mainland by a single road. Immigrants rights groups are also opposed, saying it is inappropriate to house asylum-seekers in such accommodation.
The U.K. government wants to use barges and former military bases to accommodate some migrants after the cost of housing them in hotels soared to 1.9 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) last year.
Home Office Minister Sarah Dines told the BBC that people arriving in the U.K. via unauthorized means should have “basic but proper accommodation” and that they “can’t expect to stay in a four-star hotel.”
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