Dorset port confirms it will provide home for barge for asylum seekers
Portland Port has confirmed that it has agreed to provide berthing space for a barge to be moored alongside one of its quays for asylum seekers.
The barge will provide space for 500 people and will be operational for an initial 18 months.
The Dorset port has said it will be working closely with the government and local partners to maximise economic benefits from the vessel and minimise the impact on public services in the area.
There will also be investment in buildings and infrastructure to support the facility, ensure the essential needs of its occupants are met and for it become as self-sufficient as possible.
Bill Reeves, chief executive of Portland Port, said: “We welcome this investment in the port and local economy.
“We will be working closely with the Home Office to maximise the benefits and business opportunities while minimising any impact on public services.
“We understand local concerns and, as the port operator and a local business, have a vested interest of our own in the safe and secure use of the vessel.”
He added: “We are insisting that no economic migrants, criminals or under 18s are included in the population on board under a robust screening process.
“We are keen to ensure that only those people considered suitable and most deserving after passing strict checks are able to reside at Portland.
“There will be close co-operation with local agencies, including the health, welfare and emergency services during the preparations for the vessel’s arrival and its operation. We also hope to work closely with local community and voluntary groups.”
Bill added: “We are keen to play our part in the national effort to house some of the thousands of people needing accommodation.
“Some of the asylum seekers coming to Portland Port may be from war-torn countries where they have seen their communities destroyed, friends and family killed or have been in danger of losing their own lives.
“Many are traumatised but decent people who deserve a safe haven, and a welcome worthy of the warmth and decency of local people.
“Although they won’t be able to work, we hope that some of the asylum seekers will be able to volunteer and make a contribution to the local area too.
“We encourage everyone in the community to approach this with an open mind and help us show other areas just how successful this type of initiative can be, both for the asylum seekers and the local community.
“We will endeavour to keep everyone updated throughout this process.”
The barge, called the Bibby Stockholm, will accommodate about 500 people whilst their asylum claims are processed.
It will provide basic and functional accommodation, and healthcare provision, catering facilities and 24/7 security will be in place on board.
It is due to be operational for 18 months initially and will stay berthed in the port during that time.
Charities and local councillors have opposed the plans, with the Refugee Council saying the barge will be completely inadequate to house vulnerable people.
Dorset Council said it had “serious reservations” about the suitability of Portland Port as a location for the barge.
Portland mayor Pete Roper said: “From a Portland point of view there has been no consultation with local councillors or even our local member of parliament, it has just been between the Home Office and Portland Port.
“My major worry is this barge is going to be plonked on Portland Port with five hundred people on the vessel and we haven’t heard of any increase in support services for the residents of the barge or indeed for the island itself.
“It is like having a housing estate plonked in at a moment’s notice without recognising the need for medical, security and hospitality services. This is not a prison ship, we have to assume people will be free to come and go.”
Portland Port is in South Dorset and has operated on a commercial basis since 1996.
It has a number of commercial tenants and provides maritime and marine related services.