Just Stop Oil today tried to stop the first asylum seekers returning to the Bibby Stockholm two months after the barge was evacuated following the discovery of Legionella.
Dramatic footage shows the eco mob rushing a coach driving into the Port of Portland and trying to block its path. The protesters push against the vehicle and try to sit down in front of it but the driver keeps driving slowly forward, thwarting their efforts.
The JSO activists carried a banner reading ‘No prison ships’. Targeting the government’s immigration strategy represents a departure for the group, which usually focuses solely on environmental issues.
The asylum seekers onboard the coach were also met by at least 30 anti-barge protesters cheering them and waving banners reading ‘scrap the barge’ and ‘refugees welcome’.
Out of the 39 people removed from the vessel in August, 29 are expected to return today. The Home Office has said tests for Legionella, as well as improved fire safety protocols, had been completed ahead of their return.
Others have found accommodation with relatives, one had returned to their home country and others had mental health issues exempting them from staying on the barge.
Dramatic footage shows Just Stop Oil activists rushing a coach driving into the Port of Portland and trying to block its path
The protesters push against the vehicle and try to sit down in front of it but the driver keeps driving slowly forward, thwarting their efforts
The vehicle continues moving forward as the activists push back against the vehicle
A banner held by the JSO protesters read ‘No prison ships’. It represents a departure for the group, which usually focuses on environmental issues
Out of the 39 people removed from the Bibby Stockholm on August, 29 are expected to return today (when the barge is pictured)
Annika, of Portland Global Friendship Group, had helped produce ‘welcome bags’ for the arrivals which included shampoo, toothpaste, notebooks and a map of the local area.
She said: ‘We just want to welcome the refugees and make a gesture to show there are people here who care.
‘I think the barge is a horrible idea, it feels very oppressive, it feels like a prison here with the amount of security that they have to go through.’
Candy Udwin, of Stand Up To Racism Dorset, said she had been in contact with some of those who had been staying on the Bibby Stockholm.
She said: ‘They hate it, they say it feels like a prison, some hate being on the sea, they find it very difficult to leave and they are completely separated from the community.’
Local councillor Carralyn Parkes, who is mayor of Portland, and recently lost a High Court fight against Home Secretary Suella Braverman over the lawfulness of housing asylum seekers on the barge also attended the protest.
She said that she was continuing subsequent legal action against Dorset Council as the planning authority responsible for the port.
‘The Bibby Stockholm is not the way humane society treats vulnerable human beings,’ she said.
The Home Office said it had been working with Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service to address safety concerns, including the creation of a fourth gangway.
All staff members involved in fire evacuation had received accredited fire warden training and would undergo regular drills, a spokeswoman said.
She added that those being brought to the Bibby Stockholm would be given five days’ notice, with each individual being assessed against a suitability criteria and screened against police and immigration databases.
They would also have their fingerprints and identities recorded.
She added that a full system cleanse of the water system had been carried out and tests had given the all-clear for the Legionella bacteria.
The spokeswoman said: ‘The Government is committed to ending the use of expensive hotels for asylum seekers.
‘Moving asylum seekers into alternative accommodation sites, like the Bibby Stockholm, is more affordable for taxpayers and more manageable for communities, with on-site healthcare and catering facilities.’
The asylum seekers onboard the coach were also met by at least 30 anti-barge protesters cheering them and waving banners reading ‘scrap the barge’ and ‘refugees welcome’
Groups involved in the protest included Stand Up To Racism, while some attendees carried copies of the Socialist Worker
A woman addresses a group of anti-barge protesters at the Port of Portland this afternoon
Steve Smith, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais, said it was assisting asylum seekers with legal challenges against the accommodation.
He said: ‘That includes supporting the survivors of torture and modern slavery to legally challenge their accommodation on these sites, which is contrary to the Government’s own suitability criteria.
‘Already, we are seeing some of these transfers being delayed or cancelled altogether because of these challenges.’
Caroline O’Connor, chief executive of Migrant Help, said: ‘It’s important that people on the barge are able to maintain their independence and are able to come and go, to enter towns, to experience the local culture, to learn about life here.
‘It doesn’t help a traumatised person to be isolated from the culture that they’re trying to join.’
Nicola David, of the One Life To Live campaign, said that a letter signed by the 39 men who previously stayed on the barge described how they had found the Bibby Stockholm to be a ‘terrifying residence’ like a prison and had left them feeling ‘stress and anxiety’, with one of the asylum seekers having attempted suicide.
She said: ‘Nothing about the Bibby Stockholm has gone well – it wasn’t even the Home Office’s first or second choice of barge, so they had to settle for something 50 years old, rotten, and unfit for use.
‘The barge had endless delays for repairs, Legionella, failed plumbing, and fire safety failure.
‘I discovered that it costs more per head than hotels, not less, so the Government’s strategy doesn’t add up. And there are claims going through the High Court.’
Last week, Portland mayor Carralyn Parkes lost a High Court fight against Home Secretary Suella Braverman over the lawfulness of housing asylum seekers on the barge.
The Home Office has said tests for Legionella, as well as improved fire safety protocols, had been completed ahead of the asylum seekers’ return
On Tuesday, a van was seen delivering food, including fresh vegetables
Mrs Parkes wanted to argue that housing migrants on the barge in Portland Harbour was illegal because it breaches planning and equality laws.
But Mr Justice Holgate ruled that Mrs Parkes, a member of Portland Town Council and the mayor of Portland, did not have an arguable case.
Lawyers for the Home Office argued Mrs Parkes’s claim was ‘out of time’, ‘without merit’ and said the judge should refuse to give permission for the challenge to proceed to a trial.
Government lawyers said the local planning authority did not think planning permission was required.
They also argued there was no ‘general principle’ that housing ‘non-British asylum seekers’ together on a vessel was ‘unlawful’ under a public sector equality duty.
There has been a major local backlash against the barge, with residents fearful over the impact the new arrivals will have on their community.
They fear that already overstretched services such as GP surgeries will not be able to cope with the influx of 506 men, who will be able to come and go as they wish.
Local people have also raised fears of an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour, risk to their personal safety and the impact on tourism.
Opposition has also come from organisations including the Fire Brigades Union, which has warned over ‘serious fire risks’.
Carralyn Parkes last week lost a legal bid to challenge the lawfulness of using the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland Harbour, Dorset
In response, Ms Braverman pointed out that the barge has been used as accommodation numerous times before.
‘I believe the barge is safe,’ Ms Braverman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in August.
‘This barge has accommodated people in the past – asylum seekers, oil rig workers and barges of this kind have been used to accommodate asylum seekers, for example in Scotland, so I’m very confident that this barge is safe for human habitation.
‘We followed all of the advice and protocols in anticipation of embarkation.’
A Home Office spokesperson said previously: ‘The Home Office has started to send letters to asylum seekers to confirm the re-embarkation of the Bibby Stockholm and notify them that they will be accommodated on board, following the vessel completing all necessary tests.
‘The letters confirm the next steps for asylum seekers and reiterate that all asylum accommodation continues to be offered on a no-choice basis.
‘Delivering alternative accommodation sites, such as the vessel, is more affordable for taxpayers and more manageable for communities, due to healthcare and catering facilities on site, 24/7 security and the purpose-built safe accommodation they provide.’
A range of meals will be served from the barge’s canteen
A photo of a TV room onboard the barge, which was previously used to house offshore workers