Police funding plea as concern grows about UK’s new migrant barge

Policing of a huge barge set to home around 500 asylum seekers should be funded by the government, a police commissioner is demanding.

It comes as the mayor of Portland, where the floating accommodation will be moored, suggested local women had expressed fears about their own safety.  And a local MP voiced concerns for his constituents, asking “who is going to monitor these men who have only £9 a week to spend?” 

The 306-foot-long Bibby Stockholm arrived in Falmouth, Cornwall, on Tuesday for a refit before going into service next month as part of a government plan to tackle the Channel small boats crisis.  

But local politicians have objected to the plans and Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick is reportedly calling on the Home Office to provide an extra £700,000 to cover the costs of policing the site.

The barge will be used to house single male migrants coming to the UK and will be moored off the Dorset coast. The vessel will be docked at Portland Port, with the aim of providing basic accommodation to migrants and reducing the reliance on costly hotels.

There are concerns that the site could be targeted by far-right protest groups and the National Police Coordination Centre has reportedly been commissioned to provide intelligence on any potential threats.

Quoted in the Telegraph, Mr Sidwick said: “I am determined that the funding should not come from the current police budget or from the people of Dorset.”

Those being housed on the barge will be required to share rooms with en suite bathrooms and receive just £9 a week.  South Dorset MP Richard Drax has raised concerns about the individuals “cooped up together for the first time on a barge that is itself like a quasi-prison”.

He said: “There are also concerns for my constituents. Who is going to monitor these men who have only £9 a week to spend? What are they going to do all day? Wander around?”

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The barge will be fenced off where it is berthed to prevent migrants from wandering around the port and it will also be monitored by round-the-clock security.  But migrants are free to come and go – and local councillors have been told that there will be hourly bus services to take them of the port and on trips to Weymouth, and potentially other major towns like Bournemouth.

However, those who remain out past the voluntary 11pm curfew will be called by phone to confirm their location. Any who stay out for more than seven days, or 14 calendar days and nights within any six-month period, will face removal from Portland. 

Spencer Flower, the Tory leader of Dorset Council said the authority remains opposed to the plan and said the Home Office has failed to answer questions about the scheme.  And Portland mayor Pete Roper suggested women who live close to the barge had expressed fears about their safety.  

He told The Telegraph: “I get a sense that the personal safety of the women on the island is rising to the top of the list. There is a lot of hearsay floating around at the moment regarding the behaviour of asylum seekers at hotels in other parts of the country,”

“That just appears to be hearsay. It is difficult to get any concrete confirmation that this is in fact happening. But it is now getting to be a major concern because of the fact that it’s on our doorstep down the road in Falmouth.”

Portland mayor Pete Roper 

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said: “This government has been clear that the use of expensive hotels to house the unprecedented number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel is unacceptable and must end – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6 million a day.

“This is why we will be using alternative accommodation options which are more manageable for communities, as our European neighbours are doing – including the use of barges to save the British taxpayer money.

“We are continuing to work closely with the councils and key partners to manage any impact in Falmouth and Portland and that appropriate arrangements are in place.”

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