'Cramped' Bibby Stockholm rooms could violate migrant human rights, MPs warn

The Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset.

MPs have warned that the "cramped" rooms and "claustrophobic" conditions on board the Bibby Stockholm barge for asylum seekers in Dorset could violate human rights.

A committee of MPs visited the Portland vessel earlier this month and, in a letter to the Home Office, warned the living conditions they saw were causing poor mental health.

Home Affairs Committee chair, Diana Johnson, said as many as six asylum seekers were having to share "small, cramped cabins" originally designed for one person.

"These crowded conditions were clearly contributing to a decline in mental health for some of the residents, and they could amount to violations of the human rights of asylum seekers," Ms Johnson warned the Home Office.

The Committee's main findings

  • Many asylum seekers didn't understand why they had been chosen to move onto the Bibby Stockholm and had no idea how long they would be there

  • Living conditions were "small" and "cramped", with as many as six asylum seekers sharing a room intended for one person

  • "Crowded conditions" were causing poor mental health and could violate human rights

  • Asylum seekers could take part in England language lessons, maths and sport, but still reported feeling isolated

  • They have restricted access to the local community in Portland

  • Religious services for Muslims are very limited

  • Information about GP access on board was "inconsistent"

  • It was "alarming" that one asylum seeker said they had thoughts of suicide

The Bibby Stockholm barge has been moored in Portland since July last year, and the first asylum seekers moved onto the vessel in August.

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

It has been a controversial strand of the government's plan to tackle illegal migration and bring down the estimated £8m daily cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels.

The MPs also said they were "concerned" about the impact the barge has had on the local community, due to a "lack of consultation".

"Whilst we understand Dorset Council is receiving £3,500 per occupied bedspace,consultation and engagement with the local community before a decision to base thevessel in Portland, should have taken place," Ms Johnson added.

"The Government must not forget that those seeking asylum could have experienced severe trauma. They are vulnerable young men who will be in need of critical help.

Rishi Sunak has made ‘stopping the boats’ a priority Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

"There needs to be readily accessible assistance available to deal with the medical and mental health consequences of what they have been through. Support services on the barge must be adequate to meet the needs of those housed there, and if not that there are practical steps in place to allow them to be accessed in the wider community."

Earlier this week Home Secretary James Cleverly told the Home Affairs Committee he is "totally confident" the Bibby Stockholm meets all legal requirements.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...