'Reckless': Firefighters demand meeting over safety of asylum seeker barge Bibby Stockholm

The Fire Brigades Union is demanding a meeting with Suella Braverman over safety concerns regarding migrant accommodation, such as the Bibby Stockholm barge. Credit: PA

Firefighters are demanding an urgent meeting with the home secretary to raise concerns about fire safety on accommodation set to house asylum seekers.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has written to Suella Braverman, warning of "fire safety matters at accommodation centres for asylum seekers and other migrants, including the Bibby Stockholm vessel".

The Bibby Stockholm is a barge, currently docked off the coast of Dorset, which the government hopes will soon be home to 500 people who entered the UK illegally.

But plans to move the first 50 migrants there on Tuesday were delayed amid safety concerns and it is now unclear when people will be relocated.

The FBU hit out at plans it says the government has to exempt asylum accommodation from requirements for an HMO license, which means they may escape local council safety checks.

It said it is "concerned about a potential lack of ingress and exit points, narrow corridors and doorways, and increased occupancy".

The FBU is concerned about fire safety on the Bibby Stockholm. Credit: PA

Assistant general secretary Ben Selby said: "The government has already scrapped vital fire safety measures for asylum seeker accommodation. Now, it wants to put more than 500 people onto an off-shore barge designed to hold around 200.

“This is a cruel and reckless approach to the welfare of asylum seekers, and puts the safety of firefighters at risk."

He added: "Attacking asylum seekers will not build a single house, train a single nurse or pay anyone a decent wage - it is a technique for dividing working people against each other.”

In his letter, Mr Selby warned that: "firefighting operations on vessels such as the Bibby Stockholm provide significant challenges and require specialist training and safe systems of work.

"The diminished safety provisions only exacerbate our operational concerns".

The FBU said it was requesting a meeting with Ms Braverman "to prevent another tragedy" like the Grenfell Tower disaster.

ITV News has contacted the Home Office for a response.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted the barge would soon be in use, once it had gone through all the relevant checks.

Asked about it during an LBC radio interview, he said: "The Bibby Stockholm will be in operation as soon as it’s passed all the checks and regulations – as soon as possible – that’s the key thing."

Cabinet minister Grant Shapps sought to refute concerns raised by the FBU when speaking to ITV on Wednesday morning.

He told Good Morning Britain: “It certainly won’t be a deathtrap.

“This actual ship was previously used by Germany to house migrants, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be absolutely safe. Ships are used to transport people all the time and there’s no inherent reason why that (not being safe) would be the case.

“That’s actually why these final safety checks are being carried out."

The prime minister has been keen to use off-shore accommodation to house migrants instead of paying for expensive hotels but there has been intense local opposition.

Responding to reports of fire risks on the Bibby Stockholm, a Home Office spokesman said: “Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites and vessels will provide cheaper and more orderly, suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats.

“The Bibby Stockholm is now undergoing final preparations to ensure it complies with all appropriate regulations before the arrival of the first asylum seekers in the coming weeks.

“In addition, the Home Office is working with stakeholders on a carefully structured plan to increase the number of asylum seekers at Wethersfield in a phased approach.”

The PM’s press secretary told reporters on Monday: “The Bibby Stockholm is currently undergoing final preparations including fire safety checks. That’s happening this week to ensure that it complies with all the appropriate regulations."

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