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Cramped Bibby Stockholm conditions could breach human rights, MPs warn

02 Feb 2024 3 minute read
The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. Photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire

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 interior of one of the bedrooms onboard the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge. Photo Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

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.”

Legal requirements

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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Linda Jones
Linda Jones
5 months ago

Many homeless people in the UK would give their right arm for such a accommodation. Homeless accommodation in Cardiff (if you can get it) is just floor space in the Huggard Centre or ex Toys R Us building and on a night by night basis only. Places where many dont feel safe

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
5 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

The homeless ‘accommodation’ you refer to is emergency provision, and not regular hostel accommodation. Emergency overnight provision is far from ideal, but who is responsible for this? If you get a place in a hostel for the homeless you are not sharing with five others as individuals are given single rooms. I believe there is also some limited provision of rooms for couples. Besides which, asylum seekers are not responsible for the predicament of the UK’s homeless people, which is the gist of your argument. It is this awful Tory government that is responsible for both the lack of adequate… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

The gist of my comment is the temporary accommodation for asylum seekers looks ok. They are only there temporarily while their case is considered. Much better than the temporary accommodation provided for the homeless UK citizens ie floorspace or one hotel room for a family of 6+, including children and teenagers. People are often in this type of temporary accommodation for years. The waiting list for permanent social housing in Cardiff is 11 years +.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
5 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

There is no reason why either group should have to suffer demeaning conditions. Asylum seekers may only be ‘temporary’ but the issue is the slowness of the Home Office confirming their status. with most being given leave to remain, many of whom presumably then go on to live in the temporary accommodation that you seem so concerned about.

Focus on who is responsible for both groups being treated badly, the current Tory government.

5 months ago

Hateful spiteful policy form the Conservative Party, remember that Braverman said she dreams of people being put in flights to a dangerous country where refugees have been shot and the UK has accepted refugees from because it is a dangerous country. We have politico’s in Wales that support her, we have politicos in Wales that want us out the ECHR. A few barges was never ever going to fix the problem they created, it will only serve to further hate and pain on vulnerable people. This is what the Conservative Party is now. A far right party, goose stepping into… Read more »

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