What has happened so far?

  • 31st July- plans to move people onto barge from 1st August are delayed due to safety concerns. This is not the first time the plan was delayed.
  • Monday 7th August 1) Home Office contractors received test results showing presence of Legionella on the barge. It remains unclear who was told about this and when. 2) People seeking asylum were moved onto the barge.[iii]
  • Friday 11th August – everyone is evacuated from the barge on a temporary basis due to the presence of Legionella.[iv]
  • Tuesday 10th October – a resident of the local town was refused permission for a judicial review of the decision to use the barge in this way.[v]
  • 19th October – the government moved people back onto the Bibby Stockholm.[vi]
  • 12th December – a person died on the Bibby Stockholm in a reported suicide.[vii]

Who is being placed there?

The Home Office states that it is placing male asylum seekers between 18 and 65, who are eligible for asylum accommodation, on the barge, and that everyone will have already had an initial screening interview.[6]  

Our understanding is that all those who have so far been placed on the barge, or told that they will be  are awaiting an initial decision on their asylum claims, and arrived before 7th March. This means that the new Illegal Migration Act will not apply to them. However, we cannot guarantee this will continue to be the case, as this is a fast-moving situation. 

Why is placing people on the barge a problem?

[ ]

People will be warehoused in an overcrowded, prison-like space:

People will be warehoused in an overcrowded, prison-like space:  

  • People will be sharing rooms designed for single use, similarly to a prison. When it was previously used for short-term accommodation, the barge had capacity for 222 people. The government now plans to place approximately 500 people there. 
  • There are very few facilities or spaces for relaxation and they are woefully inadequate for that number of people. For example, the dining room has capacity for only 160 people. 
  • Severe overcrowding and lack of facilities are likely to make privacy and relaxation impossible. This poses a serious risk to people’s mental health.[ix]
  • The barge has a heavy security presence. An Afghan man placed on the barge in August told the BBC “The sound of locks and security checks gives me the feeling of entering Alcatraz prison.”[x]


There will be very little freedom for those placed on the barge: There is every indication that where they can go and when they can go there, will be tightly controlled.  

  • Portland Port Authority states that “asylum-seekers will not be free to move around the port. When on port property they will be kept on the Bibby Stockholm or in a secure compound adjacent to the barge.”[xi]
  • The government’s own factsheet on the barge explains that a bus service will take people from the port to “destinations agreed with local agencies” indicating that people’s actual options to leave the Port will be severely limited.[xii]. 

Risk of re-trauma

Many people seeking asylum have survived torture, trafficking, or other profound traumas. Being placed ina detention-like setting poses a severe risk of re-trauma.[xiii] Some have also made treacherous journeys by sea, in which case being contained on a floating vessel poses a specific risk of re-trauma. 


Danger from fire and infection


  • The crowded conditions on the barge pose a risk of infection, and already it has had to be evacuated due to the presence of Legionella in the water.
  • The Fire Brigades Union has dubbed the barge a “potential deathtrap”.[xiv]


Poor access to healthcare

Plans for healthcare provision on the barge are inadequate and asylum seekers will not be allowed to register with a local GP. There will be a GP onsite only 1 day per week, and a nurse or paramedic the rest of the time, otherwise support will be remote.  

  • Medical experts have expressed concerns about the adequacy of these onsite arrangements to meet people’s healthcare needs.[xv]
  • It is worrying that people will only be able to access healthcare via someone employed on the site. We know from our work in detention and at Napier barracks that people really struggle to build trust and disclose issues to onsite medical staff in detention-like environments.

Why does the government want to house people on the barge?

[ ]

The use of the barge as accommodation is intended to be hostile towards people seeking asylum. Over the last few years, successive governments have been attempting to rollout institutional, out-of-town sites as a ‘new normal’ for asylum accommodation. Napier barracks in Kent is an early example.  

Plans to do this were announced in the government’s New Plan for Immigration in March 2021, as one of a raft of measures aimed at making the asylum system even more hostile. The plan explicitly proposed accommodating people seeking asylum in “basic” centres.[xvi]  

The government also claims that barges will save money compared to hotel accommodation.[xvii] However, a recent report published by the NGOs Reclaim the Seas and One Life to Live, shows that that Bibby Stockholm will not only fail to save money, but is actually very likely to be more expensive.  

Although it has been suggested that the Home Office could make daily savings of £9.28 per person on the barge, this does not account for inevitable costs such as inspections and repairs. The Home Office did not disclose these, even though they are already factored into the reported costs of hotels.[xviii]  Once they are accounted for, the idea of saving  money by hosting people on the barge is a total fiction.

Why do people agree to go to the barge?

[ ]

They are given no choice and would otherwise be destitute.

What can I do to help?

Support JRS UK


[i] JRS UK, Napier Barracks: the inhumane reality (2023), p.10.

[ii] Bibby Stockholm: Asylum seekers to be returned to migrant barge – BBC News 

[iii] Understood to be 39 people. 

[iv] For further details of this sequence of events, see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-66476538. 

[v] Portland mayor loses High Court fight with government over Bibby Stockholm barge – ITV News West Country. 

[vi] Chaotic scenes as first asylum seekers return to Bibby Stockholm barge – The Guardian

[vii] JRS UK calls for Bibby Stockholm to be closed following reported suicide

[viii] Home Office, “Fact Sheet: Asylum Accommodation on a vessel in Portland Port” (Updated 9th October 2023).

[ix] JRS UK, Napier Barracks: the inhumane reality (2023), p.14. 

[x] Bibby Stockholm: Asylum seekers describe life on barge – BBC News. 

[xi] An Open Letter to Bibby Marine – Refugee Council

[xii] Home Office, “Fact Sheet: Asylum Accommodation on a vessel in Portland Port” (Updated 10th August 2023). 

[xiii] See JRS UK, Napier Barracks: the inhumane reality (2023), pp.16-17; and JRS UK, Detained and Dehumanised: the impact of immigration detention (2020), p.19. 

[xiv] Bibby Stockholm asylum barge is ‘potential deathtrap’, say firefighters | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian 

[xv] Marina Davidson, “Floating prisons and ex-military bases: large asylum accommodation sites harm health” (14th August 2023), BMJ 2023;382:p1874, available here. 

[xvi] HM Government, “New Plan for Immigration Policy Statement”, (March 2021).

[xvii] Home Office, “Fact Sheet: Asylum Accommodation on a vessel in Portland Port” (Updated 4th September 2023).

[xviii] One Life to Live and Reclaim the Sea, Bibby Stockholm – at what cost? What is the barge costing and will it help to cut the number and cost of hotels? (11 July 2023)

Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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