Bibby Stockholm residents say conditions onboard were 'like prison'

Multiple former residents told an inquiry conditions on the barge were like being “in prison”, while one said it made them feel like a “zoo animal”.

A report looking into the Bibby Stockholm barge that houses asylum seekers has found widespread mental health problems and “airport security” aboard the vessel.

Multiple former residents told an inquiry conditions on the barge were like being “in prison”, while one said it made them feel like a “zoo animal”.

An employee also said they stopped receiving shifts on the barge because they were being friendly to residents.

The Bibby Stockholm, moored off the coast of Portland in Dorset, is the only accommodation barge for migrants commissioned so far by ministers and has faced a series of setbacks since its arrival.

Leonard Farruku, an Albanian asylum seeker, died while living on board the barge in December and is thought to have taken his own life.

The discovery of dangerous bacteria led to its evacuation last summer just days after the arrival of the first asylum seekers, and it remained vacant for two months.

The Bibby Stockholm: A People’s Inquiry spoke to a number of former residents for first-hand accounts of what life was like on the vessel.

The report, produced by Care4Calais, Stand Up To Racism and the Portland Global Friendship Group, called for the immediate closure of the barge and no renewal of its contract, as well as investment in asylum claim decision makers.

The first initials of each refugee were used in the report instead of their names to protect their identity.

A, a queer refugee who only moved from the barge after charities lodged safeguarding concerns, said the conditions left them feeling paranoid and they “felt like I was going insane as soon as I got there”.

People walk on to the Bibby Stockholm migrant accommodation barge on December 12 following the death of an asylum seeker on board Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

They said: “It felt like we were being watched all the time, searched, but also not treated like adults, with a curfew and not being able to go out when we wanted.”

A said there was no privacy anywhere on vessel, adding: “On the barge I sometimes just felt like a zoo animal.”

Another former resident, S, told the inquiry: “When leaving and entering we have to be scanned, like airport security. Many people don’t go outside because of this.

“They stayed inside and tried to do something in the ‘common rooms’. But there is not enough space for people.

“One day I was standing in the restaurant and I said the food was not good. The security staff said ‘Keep your mouth shut and sit down’.”

The facilities on the Bibby Stockholm. Credit: PA

T, who fled religious persecution in his home country before flying to the UK to try and join family, said: “Staying alone in a closed area affects mental health. People have mental health problems on the Bibby.

“I felt depressed – I tried my best to escape that place. Many people are struggling there.”

Levana, who was employed as a cleaner on the Bibby Stockholm, said she was given a warning by a manager on December 12 last year after standing with two of the barge’s residents on their break.

They said: “I was told that I was being given a verbal warning because I should not be friendly with the service users in this way.

“After this I worked one more booked shift and then was offered no further work, even though other staff were being offered shifts.”

Levana said she had found the residents to be respectful, helpful and polite, but senior staff had made comments that they were “often hostile, and possibly racist”.

The Home Office shelved plans to procure more barges to hold asylum seekers in January.

The Bibby Stockholm was accommodating just under half the number of migrants the Home Office expected would be the case at the end of that month.

Steve Smith, chief executive of Care4Calais, said: “People should not be accommodated in these prison-like conditions. That’s particularly true of people who have survived horrors of torture and modern slavery.

“The people’s inquiry sets out in some detail the human cost of the Bibby Stockholm and presents a comprehensive case for it being closed down.”

Candy Udwin, joint secretary of Dorset Stand up to Racism, said: “Our experience in Portland is that segregating those seeking asylum on the barge is detrimental both for the refugees, and for their integration into the local community.

“The Bibby Stockholm is inhumane, should be shut down and any future government should pledge not to renew its contract.”

In response, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not recognise the claims made in this report.

“The Bibby Stockholm is part of the government’s plan to reduce the use of expensive hotels and bring forward alternative accommodation options which are more cost effective, sustainable and manageable for the taxpayer and local communities.

“There are rigorous safeguarding processes in place on the barge. Residents have access to health and social care services, including mental health support. If concerns are raised about any aspect of the service delivered, we work with the provider to ensure these are swiftly addressed, and Migrant Help 24/7 is also available every day of the year.”