Labour would use barges and military bases to house migrants, shadow minister says

Labour would use barges to house asylum seekers for a “very short” period to tackle the backlog of cases, the party’s Shadow Immigration Minister has said.

Stephen Kinnock confirmed that alternatives to hotels including barges and former military bases would still be used for around six months to bring down claim delays from a record high.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has previously indicated she would not be able to immediately shut down the sites but declined to be explicit about the policy.

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Mr Kinnock told BBC Breakfast yesterday: “The reality is that we’ve got tens of thousands of people in hotels, we need to get them out of hotels and we need to get them off the barges and out of the military camps too.

Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. (Photo credit: James Manning/PA Wire)Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. (Photo credit: James Manning/PA Wire)
Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. (Photo credit: James Manning/PA Wire)

“Because of the complete and utter chaos and shambles of the Tory asylum crisis, we are going to have to continue in a very short-term period to use the infrastructure that is there, including the barges and the hotels.”

Mr Kinnock said he cannot give a specific timeline as ministers work to bring down the decisions backlog from a record high of more than 172,000 cases.

The Labour MP added: “We will be forced to use these contingency measures because of the mess the Government has made.

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“I’m confident that within six months of a Labour government we will be getting on top of the backlog and clearing people out of hotels and putting them into suitable accommodation, or removing them from the country properly because they have no right to be here.”

Mr Kinnock added to Sky News that he feels “deeply unhappy” about having to resort to the barges.

“This is the last thing we would want to be doing because we believe that people who are applying for asylum should be in appropriate accommodation,” he said.

It comes as the immigration minister said that the first asylum seekers will go on to the Bibby Stockholm barge “in the coming days” after a series of delays amid safety concerns.

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Robert Jenrick said around 50 people will enter the vessel in Portland Port, Dorset, as part of a first tranche this week.

He offered a guarantee that it is a “safe facility” after the firefighters’ union warned it is a “potential deathtrap”, citing concerns including overcrowding and access to fire exits.

After an initial delay while works were carried out in Cornwall, the Bibby barge was met by local opposition when it arrived in Portland on July 18.

Various expected dates have been given and then missed for the first people to be housed on it, but Mr Jenrick said it will be this week.

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“We hope that the first migrants will go on to the boat in the coming days, I’m not going to give you an exact date – but very soon,” he told Sky News.

“For security reasons we prefer not to give the dates on which individuals arrive.

“You won’t have long to wait. This is an important step forwards.

“I can absolutely assure you that this is a safe facility.”

He said increasing the numbers on the barge to the capacity of around 500 is still the plan despite concerns from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) over the vessel initially designed to house about 200.

Ann Salter, of Freedom from Torture, said the “cramped conditions” on the Bibby Stockholm meant it was a “potential death trap”.