Bibby barge asylum seeker ‘kills himself’ – death will be ‘fully investigated’
Police were called to reports of the “sudden death” of a man living on the giant vessel, which houses migrants in Portland, Dorset, early yesterday morning.
South Dorset MP Richard Drax described the news as a “tragedy born of an impossible situation” and said he had been told by the Home Office the man is thought to have taken his own life.
Several other sources have said the death is believed to be a suicide.
Mr Cleverly told MPs in the Commons: “Tragically, there has been [a] death on the Bibby Stockholm barge. I’m sure that the thoughts of the whole House, like mine, are with those affected.
“The House will understand that at this stage I am uncomfortable getting into any more details. But we will of course investigate fully.”
Dorset Police said the force received “a report of a sudden death of a resident on the Bibby Stockholm” shortly after 6.20am.
Officers are carrying out inquiries into the circumstances of the incident and the coroner has been notified of the death, a force spokesman said.
The age and nationality of the man and further details of the incident are yet to be confirmed.
Mr Drax said: “This is a tragedy born of an impossible situation. I was informed of the death by the Home Office this morning and await more information.
“While I never agreed to, nor accepted the imposition of the barge on South Dorset, I believe it was at least a decent, safe haven for some of those cruelly trafficked across the Channel.
“One can only imagine the desperate circumstances which led to this sad outcome; we must do all that we can to end this evil trade in human misery.”
The barge – the first to be used as part of government efforts to cut the cost of asylum accommodation – has capacity to house up to 500 single men in around 200 bedrooms.
Asylum seekers were first moved on board in August but evacuated days later after the discovery of Legionella – the bacteria which can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease – in the water supply.
Migrants were taken back to the barge some two months later and Home Office interim second permanent secretary Simon Ridley told MPs in November that there were around 200 people on board.
The plan has attracted considerable opposition, prompting legal challenges and protests, with campaigners branding it cruel and inhumane.
READ MORE Asylum seeker living in tent under a tree after council refuses to house him
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News of the death drew criticism from charities who called for an independent review into the death, an end to the use of such facilities for asylum accommodation and hit out at the conditions on board.
The Refugee Council’s chief executive Enver Solomon said: “This is an appalling loss of life but tragically not surprising.
“We know from our work supporting men, women and children in the asylum system that many are deeply traumatised and feel isolated, unable to get the help they need. Some are so desperate they self-harm and feel suicidal.
“Nobody who comes to our country seeking asylum should be left without the support they need yet the system has more hostility than compassion built into it.
“It is imperative that an independent review is carried out into this death so that lessons are learned to avoid any further tragedies of this kind.”
Steve Smith, the chief executive of Care4Calais, called on the Government to “ take responsibility for this human tragedy”, adding: “They have wilfully ignored the trauma they are inflicting on people who are sent to the Bibby Stockholm, and the hundreds being accommodated in former military barracks.
“They are being separated from the rest of society and we have witnessed a serious deterioration of people’s mental health. We have regularly been reporting suicidal intentions amongst residents and no action is taken.
“This can no longer continue.”
“It’s time our political leaders treated them as human beings, listened to the trauma they have experienced and offered them sanctuary. The Government’s proxy war against refugees is costing lives.”
Charity Freedom from Torture said the incident was “another reminder that the Government’s punitive anti-refugee policies are not only cruel but they cost lives”, adding: “It’s time this Government ends the use of barges and barracks as asylum accommodation once and for all.”
Former home secretary Suella Braverman previously insisted the Bibby barge was safe amid threats of legal action from firefighters about the suitability of the plan.
Having visited the barge recently, Mr Drax said he “couldn’t see any areas of concern”, adding that it was “very peaceful and well run”.
The chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal also visited the site in October and told MPs last month the conditions inside were “pretty good” and “better than many hotels”, but questioned whether some of the staff involved in the site were appropriately “skilled”.
He is due to carry out an inspection of the barge in January.
For mental health support, call the Samaritans on 116 123, email them at [email protected] or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.
Local residents have spoken of their sadness at the “predictable” death of an asylum seeker aboard the Bibby Stockholm barge.
Dorset Police have confirmed the “sudden death” of a resident of the vessel at Portland Port on Tuesday morning.
A small number of bunches of flowers had been placed at the entrance to the port with a sign left by the Portland Global Friendship Group which said: “So very sad that one of our friends from a distant land has died today. May you rest in peace.”
Retired civil engineer Gabriel Hyde told the PA news agency that he felt the death was “shocking” because it had been predictable.
He said: “It’s terribly sad, we have all known that some of the people are very low and it hasn’t come as a surprise, which makes it so shocking to be expecting something like this and for it to happen.”
Mr Hyde added: “I have just come here to show my respects to one of my fellow people who has died tragically and unnecessarily, I do not want to make political points about it, it’s a very sad situation.
“It’s a human point, if you put people in miserable circumstances deliberately, people who are in any case vulnerable, it’s going to be no surprise if one of them decides it’s all too much, this is what has happened in this case.”
His wife Wanda Hyde said: “If they were dogs from Romania they would have been homed; we treat dogs better than humans, it’s appalling.”
Simon Pugh-Jones, a retired teacher, said: “It’s a simple thing about caring for people – in Britain we do care about people but we have a government that goes out of its way not to care about people.
“If we do not care about people, tragedies happen.”
Cathi Aanwyn left a bunch of flowers with a note saying: “Remembering our neighbour and friend, with deep sorrow for the pain he endured. May you now rest in peace.”
Ms Aanwyn said: “I just felt deeply, deeply sad because somebody that is here, right beside us, who has come all the way to this country and has been in so much pain that they think they have no hope and no future and has taken their own life.
The Government unveiled its £24,500-a-day plan to hire a mammoth former container barge as emergency housing for asylum seekers in April, mooring it at Portland Port in Dorset.
The Bibby Stockholm was built in 1976 and was converted into an accommodation barge in 1992.
From 1994 to 1998, it was used to house the homeless, including some asylum seekers, in Hamburg, Germany, then in 2005, it was used by the Netherlands to detain asylum seekers in Rotterdam.
In 2013, the 93 metre long barge was used by Petrofac as accommodation for construction workers at the Shetland Gas Plant, remaining in service for around three years.
Then in June 2018, the barge was moved to Piteå, Sweden, to assist in the construction of Markbygden Wind Farm.
The UK plan is for the three-storey barge to stay in the port for at least 18 months, housing 506 people awaiting a Home Office decision on their case.
It contains healthcare provision, catering facilities, a multi-faith prayer room, a gym and 24-hour security but concerns have been raised about a lack of fire exits and shortage of life jackets.
After fierce local opposition the first group of 15 asylum-seekers boarded the barge on August 7 whilst a further 20 refused to board.
Hours later Dorset Council told the barge’s operators Bibby Marine that Legionella bacteria had been found forcing residents to be evacuated.
Asylum seekers were moved back on to the vessel in October and it is thought around 200 are currently living onboard.
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