Home Office admits housing asylum seekers on Bibby Stockholm barge is discriminatory

The vessel moored off the Portland has the capacity to house up to 500 asylum seekers. Credit: PA

Housing asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge is discriminatory on grounds of age and sex, according to a government assessment of the policy.

The vessel, which is moored off Portland on the Dorset coast, has the capacity to hold up to 500 people but has proved controversial since asylum seekers were first housed on the barge in August.

Now, an equality impact assessment conducted by the Home Office has revealed that the policy breaks the 2010 Equality Act on two grounds.

The report published on Wednesday 27 December said the policy is "directly discriminating" in relation to age and sex and said changes might be needed.

The sleeping cabins on board range from double rooms to group rooms for up to six people. Credit: PA

However, the document outlined that discrimination is permitted under the act "if treatment is justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim" and argued this condition had been met.

"The policy aim is to ensure we meet our legal obligations to accommodate asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute and to enable our move away from accommodating individuals in hotels, which is expensive and unsustainable," the Home Office report said.

On age discrimination, the report outlined: "There is a greater need to accommodate male asylum seekers in the 18-65 age range, therefore we are achieving a clear and legitimate aim."

The assessment also noted that "as there are far more male asylum seekers than females and many of the female claimants have children, it has been decided that is appropriate to use the site for male asylum seekers only."

The assessment found that the policy was not discriminatory on the basis of race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

But it also suggests the policy will have to be changed to ensure it complies with the law.

“In relation to demonstrating that the accommodation is managed in a way that is as fair as possible to both men and women … we are considering measures to ensure that as far as possible the accommodation is comparable to other asylum accommodation," the document said.

The report comes just weeks after 27-year-old Leonard Farruku, an asylum seeker from Albania, died on board the vessel. An inquest into his death ruled there were no suspicious circumstances involved.

The policy of housing asylum seekers on board the Bibby Stockholm barge has proved controversial ever since it was announced, with charities saying the death on board the vessel was an "accident waiting to happen."

Asylum seekers who had been moved onto the barge in August were evacuated four days later after Legionella bacteria was found in the water.

Around 70 asylum seekers are now living on the barge.