FULL BRIEFING: Evidence for quasi-detention at the Bibby Stockholm barge

FULL BRIEFING: Evidence for quasi-detention at the Bibby Stockholm barge

This new briefing from One Life To Live compares conditions at the barge site with the 6 features of quasi-detention as outlined by the APPG on Immigration Detention in their December 2021 report.

My strongest feeling is of being humiliated and captured.”

View or download the full briefing.

1. Physical and social isolation

  • The barge is located at a highly secure industrial port, behind highly secure fences and gates, on an island attached to the mainland by a causeway (which closes in bad weather or in cases of accidents).
  • Asylum-seekers are forced to spend most of their time in tiny shared cabins because there is nothing to do and nowhere to go.
  • No one may leave the site on foot. Buses run once an hour, are not 24/7, and can be unreliable.
  • The multi-agency forum (MAF) for the site says it is “in no one’s interests” for asylum-seekers to get off the bus and be free to do what they want, and that the goal is to keep them on the barge.
  • Even with a cohort of 136, WiFi is patchy and asylum-seekers say it’s difficult to make calls or browse the internet.
  • Asylum-seekers may not receive visitors on the barge.
  • All TVs in the cabins have been disconnected. There are TVs in 2 lounges seating 8 people each: that’s two TVs for 506 people.
  • The asylum-seekers know that local racists and neo-nazi groups have made threats against them, and this means they have less confidence in leaving the barge.
  • Intrusive journalists have also made it challenging for them to be on the streets.
  • The barge has become like a ghetto and this has had a very damaging effect on mental health. There was a suicide attempt in August, and a mental health crisis in October which led to a removal from the barge.

2. Military/prison-like nature

  • The contracted security company provides 18 uniformed staff with military training.
  • There is also a port police force and their vehicles have police markings and light bars.
  • Dorset Police has received £520,000 additional funding for extra security around the site.
  • Asylum-seekers must carry security passes to track whether they are on or off the barge.
  • There is CCTV throughout the barge, the compound and the port area, as well as the surrounding streets.
  • The quayside is surrounded by sharply spiked metal fencing.
  • The small exercise compound is surrounded by 20-foot metal fences and locked gates.
  • Getting on and off the barge, even for a cigarette break, involves airport-style security: x-raying of possessions, body scans, tracking via electronic security passes, and searches.
  • Asylum-seekers who are likely to be back late should take a mobile phone with them, provided by barge staff, in order to be contactable.

3. Shared facilities, lack of privacy and sleep deprivation

  • The barge was designed for 222 people but the eventual asylum-seeker cohort will be 506 plus 40 resident staff. As of mid-November 2023, there were 136 people on board yet one person said the barge already felt crowded.
  • Bunk beds have been used to convert single cabins to twins. Each person has less personal space than the average car parking space.
  • The en suite bathrooms are 5 feet x 5 feet, and lead off the tiny cabins. Using the toilet lacks privacy.
  • Most public spaces on the barge have been converted to dormitories for 4 or 6 people. This means there are very few places to go for peace and quiet or privacy.
  • The compound at the head of the berth is not suitable for private space. Getting on and off the barge is a major endeavour; the compound is depressing; it is surveilled by CCTV; it is more difficult to use in cold/bad weather and non-daylight hours. Also, it’s the only respite for everyone else, too, thereby defeating the point.
  • Sleep deprivation is caused by a multitude of reasons including noise from bunk beds, from the heating system in the cabins, and the rest of the barge. There is anxiety, the activities of the roommate, and fear and seasickness when the weather is bad.

4. Difficulty of disclosure of sensitive information

  • There is a nurse on bard during office hours; appointments with a GP must be made by the nurse and are likely to be by phone/video call – yet there is poor WiFi and little privacy.
  • Secondary care is most likely to be in Dorchester, 13 miles away, and the shuttle bus does not go there.
  • Access to human-right lawyers and legal aid is very difficult in that part of the country. Many of the law firms on a list provided by the Home Office didn’t have practising certificates, or don’t take human rights cases, or aren’t registered with the SRA, or don’t take legal aid cases, or have closed down…
  • Despite the MAF update suggesting that asylum-seekers should only use the shuttle buses for attending activities laid on for them, the stops are limited, fixed, and do not serve the activity venues.
  • The Home Office has said that asylum-seekers should not accept lift from volunteers.

5. Restriction and surveillance

  • We already saw above that the asylum-seekers spend disproportionate amounts of time in cramped, shared cabins; are not permitted to have guests; cannot rely on on-board WiFi; have just 2 TVs on board; may not leave the barge compound on foot; cannot rely on the bus service; and are not supposed to accept lifts. We also know that the MAF wishes to keep them on board.
  • They are not permitted to do their own personal laundry (clothing, underwear etc). The is done for them, in the on-board laundry room, by subcontractor Landry & Kling.
  • The asylum-seekers can’t bring any food on board – not even a bag of crisps.
  • Equally, they are not permitted to have a packed lunch for when they will be off the barge for the day – if they want to eat, they must use their £9.58 per week allowance.
  • The basketball, and the weight in the gym, have been classed as weapons and have been removed. The gym has 2 treadmills for an eventual cohort of 506 people.
  • Asylum-seekers cannot make GP appointments for themselves; they must convince the nurse that they need to speak to a doctor.

6. Racist and anti-migrant views surrounding the site

  • Anti-asylum-seeker sentiment at Portland has been extreme. The ‘No To The Barge’ Facebook group features exclusively racist and anti-immigration commentary.
  • Comments on social media call for direct action, including bombing, sinking, untethering and setting fire to the barge, and suggests feeding the asylum-seekers into an incinerator.
  • CTM, the Home Office’s lead contractor, has placed the barge on 24-hour arson watch.
  • Far-right agitators and neo-Nazi groups have been drawn to Portland and the social media site.
  • Anti-racists are harassed in the streets and one woman was told she ‘deserved to be raped’.
  • A councillor who posted a statement on the Dorset Council website received a death threat.
  • Letters threating harm to businesses, vehicle, homes, families and even pets have been sent to taxi drivers and bus drivers who might convey the asylum-seekers.

Read the full briefing.