Port operator says asylum barges 'not viable'

A port operator has responded to an open letter from an asylum charity by saying that berthing a barge to accommodate asylum seekers at its port “would not be viable”.

PD Ports, who operate Teesport near Middlesbrough, and are the Statutory Harbour Authority for the river Tees, have released a statement in response to an open letter that had been signed by dozens of local people including an MP and a number of councillors.

The letter, organised by Asylum Matters, called on the port operator to refuse to take part in plans by the Home Office to hold asylum seekers on barges while their claims are processed. It had been reported earlier this month that Teesport had been in the running as a location for one of two barges that the government has bought to hold families forced to leave their home countries.

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Portland Port in Dorset will hold the first barge, which is expected to hold asylum seekers for between 3 and 6 months. The location of the second barge is yet to be announced.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman claims that there is "abuse of our asylum system".Home Secretary Suella Braverman claims that there is "abuse of our asylum system".
Home Secretary Suella Braverman claims that there is "abuse of our asylum system".

In their response, PD Ports said that they had not received any communication from the Government about the potential of a barge being docked at Teesport.

They added: “We cannot see a situation in which public services would be able to provide the appropriate support for such accommodation. It simply would not be viable to facilitate any such accommodation to dock at one of our berths, which are in constant operation and have heavily restricted access for health and safety reasons.”

Asylum Matters welcomed the response and said that they “hope that companies around the UK will also refuse to take part in plans to warehouse people on barges or ships. People seeking safety should be housed in communities, where they can access services and begin rebuilding their lives. Barges, military camps and isolated sites are never the answer.”

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Meanwhile, Wakefield MP Simon Lightfoot and local council leader, Denise Jeffery, have written to the Home Office to object to plans to double the number of unsupported asylum seekers being housed at a hotel near the city.

It comes days after it was announced that the St Pierre Hotel in Newmillerdam was closing to customers after its owners, Best Western, had won a government contract to house asylum seekers there.

Simon Lightwood MP said: "I have written to the Home Secretary, alongside the Leader of Wakefield's Labour Council, Cllr Denise Jeffery, to oppose this in the strongest possible terms.

"At present, the Conservative Government has ensured that there is no recourse for Wakefield Council to oppose this decision. This is yet another decision forced on Wakefield, by the Tories in Westminster.

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"I am frustrated and disappointed that the Home Office are more than doubling the usage of this asylum contingency hotel to over 300 occupants. This comes shortly after they forced a third asylum contingency hotel on the Wakefield constituency.”

A Home Office spokesperson has said that it has an obligation to provide accommodation while it processes asylum applications. They said: "We are committed to making every effort to reduce hotel use and continue to engage with local authorities as early as possible whenever sites are used for asylum accommodation."

The last official figures from the Home Office showed a total of 133,607 asylum applications awaiting a decision at the end of March. Of those, 98,739 had been waiting longer than six months.

Wakefield Council Leader Denise Jeffery said: “We’re not prepared to bear the brunt of this Government’s complete and utter incompetence. The proposed capacity at hotels across the district far exceeds what is currently in place.

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“It raises questions about the health and safety of the situation, potentially leaving vulnerable people living without enough support.

“This Government must act now. This situation is spiralling out of control and is having a devastating impact. That needs to change quickly.”