Tory council and police chief raise concerns about asylum seeker barge

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Suella Braverman’s Home Office faced fresh questions from local Tories about a plan to moor a barge for asylum seekers in a Dorset harbour.

The Bibby Stockholm will house around 500 migrants when it is in position in Portland Port, despite the concerns of Conservative council and police chiefs.

The accommodation barge will head for an assessment and refurbishment in Falmouth, Cornwall, in the coming days before moving into position in Portland in the next few weeks.

But 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.

Dorset police and crime commissioner (PCC) David Sidwick demanded answers from the Home Secretary about funding for the extra policing that will be required.

Dorset Police mobile phone enforcement operation
Dorset police and crime commissioner David Sidwick (PA)

“Currently though, they also have detailed questions that need answering and that are necessary to ensure the safety of all concerned,” he said.

“I have been and remain in regular contact with both the Home Secretary and the policing minister with regard to the funding that will be required to meet the extra policing needs that this project will entail.

“I am determined that the funding should not come from the current police budget or from the people of Dorset and I will continue to push the Government to fully fund the necessary security requirements brought about by the decision they have made to site this barge here in our county.”

“However, like all local agencies, we have statutory responsibilities to fulfil and collectively we want to ensure robust arrangements are in place if this goes ahead.

“We still have unanswered questions which we are waiting for the Home Office and the barge operator to respond to.”

A forum including representatives from national, regional and local public sector agencies and the Home Office is meeting weekly to discuss the plan.

The Home Office has defended the plan, which is part of a series of schemes aimed at moving asylum seekers away from costly hotel accommodation.

A spokesman said:  “The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.

“We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6 million a day.

“We have to use alternative accommodation options, as our European neighbours are doing – including the use of barges and ferries to save the British taxpayer money.”

Portland Port’s chief executive Bill Reeves said asylum seekers will be given advice about “cultural sensitivities and behaviour” before being housed on the barge.

“We understand that there are genuine concerns about the arrival of the accommodation facility for refugees at Portland,” he said.

“We wish to reassure local people that a great deal of effort and co-ordination is being carried out in relation to such issues as security, policing, health provision and other matters.”

Mr Reeves said concerns about crime and anti-social behaviour have “proven to be unfounded” at other accommodation sites “and there is no reason to expect any different here”.

He added: “I cannot think why people who have travelled thousands of miles and have risked their lives to get here would do anything to run the risk of their asylum claim being denied and them being deported.”

Meanwhile, the latest figures showed 88 migrants were detected crossing the English Channel in two boats on Tuesday, taking the total for the year to 6,280.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made a pledge to “stop the boats” one of his key political priorities.

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