Asylum seekers removed from Bibby Stockholm barge after Legionella found in water supply

The first group was moved on to the boat this week

The Bibby Stockholm asylum seeker accommodation barge at Portland dock. Bloomberg
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Dozens of asylum seekers housed on a barge off the English coast have been removed and placed in alternative accomodation after the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease was found in the water supply.

All 39 of those who arrived on the vessel, docked in Portland Port in Dorset, this week have disembarked as a “precautionary measure”, the Home Office said.

The discovery is a setback to ministers in what had been billed as a "stop the boats week" advertising a crackdown on illegal migration. The Labour opposition said asylum policy was "in chaos".

It was also revealed that 775 people crossed the English Channel on Thursday, a record daily figure for 2023, and taking the number who have arrived that way since 2018 to 100,000.

The plan to put asylum seekers on the barge to save money had been delayed for weeks because of safety concerns, local opposition and legal challenges.

A Home Office representative said environmental samples showed "levels of legionella bacteria which require further investigation".

“As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken," they said.

“No individuals on board have presented with symptoms of Legionnaires' and asylum seekers are being provided with appropriate advice and support."

Officials said there was no risk to the mainland and that the disease does not spread from person to person. They said the "health and welfare of individuals on the vessel is our utmost priority".

The Home Office was believed to be looking for alternative accommodation.

Steve Smith, the chief executive of campaign group Care4Calais which objected to the use of the barge, said the discovery "proves our point" about health and safety.

"The Bibby Stockholm is a visual illustration of this government's hostile environment against refugees, but it has also fast become a symbol for the shambolic incompetence which has broken Britain's asylum system," he said.

On board the Bibby Stockholm barge - in pictures

The first group of asylum seekers arrived on Monday at the barge docked in Portland on England's south coast.

About 50 people were expected to move on board the barge but about 20 were granted a last-minute reprieve after a series of legal challenges.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick on Wednesday said the barge was "decent accommodation" that had been used by oil and gas workers.

Ministers say the barge is "cheaper and more manageable" than paying £6 million ($7.6 million) a day to house migrants in hotels.

More than 15,000 migrants have arrived via the English Channel this year, including 775 on Thursday. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has staked his political future on brining numbers down.

About 51,000 people who would otherwise be destitute are currently being put up in hotels, the Home Office says.

As many as 500 people could be accommodated on the boat. All are single adult men to minimise the burden on local services such as schools.

The government says the men are not in detention but checks will be made on their whereabouts if they do not return at night.

Fire brigade representatives had raised concerns about narrow corridors and a lack of entry and exit points if there was an emergency. A minister suggested their objection was politically motivated.

Updated: August 11, 2023, 9:59 PM