Rishi Sunak announces two more barges to house 1,000 migrants

UK Prime Minister says it is 'more than fair' to ask asylum seekers to share rooms, where appropriate

Migrants on-board a rescue boat in Dungeness, Kent, after trying to cross the Channel in a small boat. PA
Powered by automated translation

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday revealed that two more barges will be used to house about 1,000 migrants as he sought to defend his plan to tackle illegal immigration.

Mr Sunak highlighted statistics indicating a 20 per cent drop from last year in the number of illegal arrivals as evidence his approach was having an effect.

“My message is this: Our plan is starting to work,” he told a press conference in Dover, Kent.

In a bid to bring down the £6 million-a-day ($7.4 million) cost to the taxpayer of housing migrants in hotels, Mr Sunak said his administration would continue to move people to alternative sites, including disused military sites and vessels.

The Bibby Stockholm – which will hold 500 migrants – is due to arrive in Portland Port on the UK’s south coast in two weeks, he said, and plans are in place for two more vast boats to be used for migrant accommodation for migrants.

He declined to say where the barges “that will accommodate another 1,000” people would be stationed but said they were “on their way” to the UK.

Mr Sunak said his government carries out “extensive engagement with communities” before boats are brought in to house migrants.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his plan to 'stop the boats' was working. AFP

Since entering No 10 Downing Street in October, Mr Sunak has come under intense pressure from MPs, councillors and campaigners in his own Conservative Party to stamp out illegal immigration.

The Prime Minister claimed his migrant returns deal with Albania was proof that his plan was working.

While acknowledging there was “still have a long way to go” in the fight against illegal immigration, he said Channel crossings over the past five months had fallen by 20 per cent, compared with the same period last year.

About 1,800 Albanian citizens who entered the UK illegally have been returned to their country in the past six months, he said.

And the number of successful asylum cases lodged by Albanians has plummeted from one in five to one in 50, he said.

Mr Sunak met rescuers in Dover on the south-east coast of England on Monday morning and travelled on a boat used to pluck migrants from the sea.

He said it was “completely and utterly wrong” for people smugglers to transport migrants – including toddlers – in unseaworthy boats in seas that are often choppy.

“That's why the moral thing to do, the compassionate thing to do is to stop these criminal gangs from being able to exploit people like that and put them on these rafts and send them across the Channel,” he said.

He made a veiled reference to an incident last week in which 25 adult male migrants barricaded a central London hotel and camped outside in a protest against being asked to share rooms.

Mr Sunak said his government was “making more efficient use of hotels by asking people to share rooms where it’s appropriate to do so” and said the policy would help save £250 million a year.

He said it was “more than fair” to ask people fleeing persecution to share rooms if necessary.

Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, acknowledged that progress had been made by the government but “very large numbers” of people are still arriving on the Kent coast which is “still a worry”.

She said the French authorities “should be doing much more” to stop people from departing beaches on small boats bound for the UK.

French President Emmanuel Macron is “resistant” to having large numbers of British officials working in tandem with the French on the beach, she said.

“I’d like to see UK officers down on the beaches working with the French to stop the boats, along with other European countries,” Ms Elphicke told Sky News.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister promising measures to tackle small-boat crossings was “like Groundhog Day”.

Speaking hours before Mr Sunak made his announcement, Mr Starmer told reporters in Somerset that voters are growing frustrated with the government’s approach to tackling illegal immigration.

“I think everybody wants to make sure that we stop the boats; we don’t want people making that dangerous journey,” he said.

“All we’ve really had from the government though is the announcement of a policy that doesn’t work and then the reannouncement of the same policy, essentially.

“It often feels, I think, like Groundhog Day and, meanwhile, that’s costing a fortune for the taxpayer and there’s this growing sense of frustration.”

Migrants protest outside central London hotel – in pictures

Updated: June 05, 2023, 12:21 PM