‘Weeks’ before migrants back on board Bibby Stockholm barge

Migrants had been forced to leave the vessel after tests revealed Legionella bacteria

The Bibby Stockholm asylum seeker accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. PA
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The UK's immigration minister has suggested it could be weeks before migrants are moved back on board the Bibby Stockholm barge.

Robert Jenrick told MPs asylum seekers would be moved back on to the barge in Dorset “as soon as possible”, providing safety checks showed no “cause for concern”. He added that he expected this to take place “within weeks”.

His comments came as figures showed cases of diphtheria have been reported among asylum seekers in England for the first time since January, as Channel crossings continued for a fourth day in a row.

The first asylum seekers arrived on the Bibby barge last month but were moved off again days later after tests revealed the presence of Legionella – the bacteria that can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease.

Since then, ministers and officials have been unable to say when migrants would be back on board.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman insisted the vessel is safe amid threats of legal action from firefighters.

Conservative MP Richard Drax, whose South Dorset constituency is home to the barge, asked in the Commons on Tuesday “when and if” migrants would return.

Mr Jenrick said that it was “very unfortunate” that migrants had to be moved off the barge over the summer.

“Tests have subsequently been carried out and the definitive answers to those tests will be received very shortly,” he said.

“Assuming that they show no signs of Legionella or indeed any other bacteria or cause of concern, then we will move people back on to the boat as soon as possible. I think we can expect that within weeks.”

It comes as UK Health Security Agency data showed three cases of diphtheria among asylum seekers were reported in England in August, taking the total number of cases for 2022 and 2023 to 77.

The total previously stood at 74 after one case was reported in January. No further cases were recorded between February and July, the figures show.

When asked by the PA news agency, the Home Office refused to confirm if any of the latest cases were found among people on board the Bibby Stockholm or those staying at former RAF airbase Wethersfield Airfield in Essex, which opened to migrants for the first time in July.

Fifty-five diphtheria cases have been recorded in the south-east as well as seven in London.

“The health and welfare of asylum seekers in our care is of the utmost importance. There has been a very small number of cases of diphtheria and all individuals have been treated,” a department spokeswoman said.

“The Home Office liaises with the UKHSA regarding suspected diphtheria and infection cases. This can include safely moving individuals to more appropriate accommodation to support their safe isolation.”

Asylum seekers with symptoms of the highly contagious disease were put into isolation last year amid an increase in the number of infections among people arriving in the UK.

But ministers and health officials insisted the risk of the public getting diphtheria is low and infections are rare.

Since the start of September, 1,271 migrants have been detected crossing the Channel, according to Home Office figures.

Pictures showed groups of men being brought ashore on Tuesday amid hot, dry and calm conditions at sea before boarding a coach to be driven away from a Border Force compound in Dover, Kent.

On Monday, 286 people made the journey in five boats, taking the provisional total for the year so far to 21,372.

Inside the Bibby Stockholm barge – in pictures

Updated: September 05, 2023, 8:04 PM