UK asylum seekers who refuse to live on barges could lose government support – The Guardian

Threat from immigration minister follows legal challenge to use of Bibby Stockholm as accommodation
People seeking asylum in the UK who refuse accommodation such as barges may have government support withdrawn, the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, has said.
The first group of asylum seekers were moved on to the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, on Monday. Lawyers soon intervened to halt further transfers after claims the 220-bedroom vessel was unsafe and unsuitable for traumatised people.
“If you decline the accommodation that’s provided, such as a barge, then we will consider removing your asylum support and that individual will ultimately have to fend for themselves,” Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday.
The government was meeting its legal obligations to provide asylum seekers with accommodation and basic needs, said Jenrick, adding that the respective hotels and locations were offered on a “no-choice basis” and not an “a la carte menu”.
The announcement is part of Rishi Sunak’s “small boats week”, during which the government is planning a series of eye-catching announcements responding to mounting pressure to remove asylum seekers from hotels.
A rising backlog of asylum cases has not yet been processed by the Home Office, and the cost of hotel accommodation soared to £1.9bn last year.
“We’re not making anybody destitute,” said Jenrick. “They would be choosing to do so because they wouldn’t accept the perfectly decent accommodation that’s provided.”
The use of barges and former military bases to accommodate some asylum seekers has been met with alarm by refugee organisations for being costly, cruel and inhumane. Concerns have also been raised over fire safety, overcrowding and threats from the far right.
“We shouldn’t need to be putting people up in four-star hotels,” said Jenrick, adding that the barge in Dorset had been used for oil and gas workers, and citing the use of similar vessels for Ukrainian refugees in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
“If it’s good enough for all those people, then it should be good enough for the migrants,” he said. “And we accept it is.”
Jenrick also defended the Conservative party deputy chair, Lee Anderson, who was reported as saying on Tuesday that anyone who refused to be housed on the Bibby Stockholm “could fuck off back to France”.
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The immigration minister told Today: “I think what Lee was expressing was the fact that the accommodation we are providing as a country at huge expense – billions of pounds a year – is decent, it is good quality, it meets our legal obligations.
“Barges like this are used in Belgium, in the Netherlands; the Scottish government have used a similar vessel for Ukrainian refugees. So if it is good enough for all those people then it should be good enough for the migrants.”
However, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, told the same programme that the Conservatives were “promoting division” and “lashing out” due to their own failures on tackling unlawful migration and the asylum backlog.
“It is clearly the wrong language to use and it is ramping up the rhetoric as a distraction from the fact the government is failing,” she said.


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