Port chief calls for strict checks on asylum seekers on Portland barge

Accommodation barge

Portland Port says asylum seekers should have to pass strict checks before they are considered suitable to live on a barge off the Dorset coast.

Preparations are underway for the arrival of the huge vessel that will house hundreds of refugees at the port.

Chief Executive of Portland Port Bill Reeves stressed that cruise ships will continue to visit Portland this year and that the port is "open for business as usual".

The first asylum seekers are due to move onto the barge in the next few months.

Bill Reeves, chief executive of Portland Port, said: “We have listened to concerns and are keen to ensure that the community is kept updated while we work with the Home Office and local agencies to minimise the impact and maximise the benefits of the barge for the area and local economy.

“We are keen to ensure that only those people considered suitable after passing strict checks are able to reside on the accommodation facility at Portland.

“The port remains open for business, our customers remain busy and we are looking to bring our new berth development into operation in the next few weeks.”

The barge called the Bibby Stockholm, will house up to 500 people whilst their asylum claims are processed. 

Accommodation barge Credit: PA images

The Home Office says only single adult male asylum seekers will be sent to the vessel in order to help reduce the pressure on local public services.

The accommodation is being described as basic and functional, and healthcare provision, catering facilities and 24/7 security will be in place on board.

The government says the barge is needed to cut the £6million-a-day cost of housing asylum seekers in expensive hotels.

The government's decision to dock the vessel at Portland met fierce opposition from the Tory-run Dorset Council and local Conservative MP Richard Drax.

It was also criticised by human rights campaigners who said the housing is not appropriate for people fleeing war.

Portland Port

The Home Office said: "There will be robust processes in place to assess and manage the requirements of anyone accommodated on the vessel.

"The vessel is being designed to minimise the impact on local communities and services, for example by having on-board catering facilities, and basic primary health care, that supports rather than burdens the local GP practice."

The port employs 53 people and provides maritime and marine related services, including berthing facilities for visiting vessels.

It says its cruise business contributes circa £10m to the local economy annually.