Cramped Bibby Stockholm conditions could breach human rights, MPs warn
Asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge are facing “claustrophobic” conditions that could amount to a breach of human rights, a Commons committee has warned after MPs visited the Portland vessel.
Home Affairs Select Committee chairwoman Dame Diana Johnson has written to illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson to set out serious concerns about the wellbeing of asylum seekers on the barge.
It comes after the Home Office this week confirmed housing asylum claimants on the barge currently costs £120 per person per night, compared with the latest average of £140 per person per night in hotels.
In her letter, Dame Diana said the committee was “disheartened to see some of the living conditions on the Bibby Stockholm”.
The Labour MP said members found “many individuals having to share small, cramped cabins (originally designed for one person), often with people (up to six) they do not know (some of whom spoke a different language to them)”.
She added: “These crowded conditions were clearly contributing to a decline in mental health for some of the residents, and they could amount to violations of the human rights of asylum seekers.”
The Commons committee also complained of “discrepancies” between the accounts of officials and asylum seekers themselves, noting MPs received “inconsistent” information regarding access to GP services for those onboard.
Dame Diana said the committee also found there was “very limited” access to religious services for Muslims.
She said: “It is concerning that, in our short visit, many asylum seekers expressed mental health concerns.
“It was alarming that one asylum seeker told a member of the delegation that they had had thoughts of suicide as a result of having to reside on the barge. Although we were assured that the relevant safeguarding team would work with this particular individual, we are extremely concerned about the apparent lack of mental health support for those on the barge.”
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he is “totally confident” the Bibby Stockholm meets all legal requirements when he was grilled by the same committee this week.
“We take both the physical and the mental health of the people who are in the asylum estate very seriously,” he added.
In a statement, Dame Diana said: “We are concerned that housing asylum claimants on Bibby Stockholm is leaving them in a claustrophobic environment, isolated from external support including legal advice, and without important links to community, faith or family potentially for months on end.
“The Government must not forget that those seeking asylum could have experienced severe trauma. They are vulnerable young men who will be in need of critical help.”
The death of an asylum seeker on board the Bibby Stockholm in December was “tragic”, MPs said, and they called on the Home Office to take “all suitable steps to ensure mental health support is available”.
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