The first asylum seekers will go on to the Bibby Stockholm barge “in the coming days,” according to the immigration minister, following a series of delays due to safety concerns.
According to Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, approximately 50 migrants will board the ship in Portland Port, Dorset, as part of the first tranche this week.
He promised it is a “safe facility” after the firefighters’ union warned it is a “potential deathtrap,” citing issues such as overcrowding and access to fire exits.
Following a brief delay while repairs were completed in Cornwall, the Bibby barge was met with local hostility when it arrived in Portland on July 18.
Various expected dates for the first people to be accommodated on it have been announced and then missed, but Mr Jenrick says it will be this week.
“We hope that the first migrants will go on to the boat in the coming days, I’m not going to give you an exact date – but very soon,” he told Sky News.
“For security reasons we prefer not to give the dates on which individuals arrive.
“You won’t have long to wait. This is an important step forwards.
“I can absolutely assure you that this is a safe facility.”
Despite worries from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) regarding the vessel’s initial capacity of roughly 200, he said raising the number of people aboard the barge to around 500 is still the intention.
Labour and the Conservatives are fighting over migration as the government launches a “small boats week” of announcements.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and “his activist friends” of “doing their best to sabotage our efforts” to tackle small boats.
“Sir Keir Starmer is secretly delighted at his web of cronies’ schemes to block our plans to stop the boats,” she said in comments carried by multiple Sunday newspapers.
A Tory attack dossier connects an immigration lawyer who cheered halting a deportation flight from Rwanda to the Labour Party.
Jacqueline McKenzie, the head of immigration and refugee law at Leigh Day, was a member of Labour’s race equality task team, which was directed by Baroness Doreen Lawrence.
Ms McKenzie, on the other hand, noted that she served on a Windrush scandal advisory body chaired by then-Tory home secretary Priti Patel.
“As a solicitor I represent my clients to ensure the law is applied accurately to their cases, the outcome of which is determined by the courts,” the lawyer said.
“I have not been involved in the judicial review challenge to the Rwanda migration and economic development partnership, but two of the most senior judges in the UK has ruled that the plan is unlawful.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to “stop the boats” as one of his five national goals, but people continue to make the deadly Channel crossing.
Another 77 persons were discovered arriving in two boats on Saturday, bringing the Home Office’s preliminary tally for the year to 15,071.
Ms Braverman admitted in an interview with the Mail On Sunday: “It’s going to be a tough summer.
“I look closely at what the incoming flows are like, and we still have too many people coming across the Channel. We still need to honour our pledge to the British people to stop the boats.”
According to Labour, clearing the present backlog of failed asylum applicants will take until 2036, with around 40,000 awaiting removal according to the most recent numbers.
The opposition also accused the government of “cooking the books” in order to meet its promise of reducing the asylum decision backlog, which had reached a record high of more than 172,000 cases.
According to the new fast track plan, more over 6,000 asylum seekers were removed from the decision backlog for reasons such as failing to complete questionnaires.
Mr Jenrick, on the other hand, rejected any attempt to manipulate the data and accused Labour of providing “completely fanciful” figures.
Meanwhile, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock admitted that a Labour government would need to hold asylum seekers on barges and former military facilities for a “very short period of time” while addressing backlogs.
The Labour MP told BBC Breakfast that the measure would be essential until the “complete and utter chaos and shambles of the Tory asylum crisis” was resolved.
According to Ann Salter of Freedom from Torture, the “cramped conditions” on the Bibby Stockholm made it a “potential death trap.”
She added: “Cruel and undignified accommodation won’t reduce the Home Office’s asylum backlog and it’s not going to stop refugees from seeking safety here in the UK.
“All it’s going to do is condemn thousands of people to unsafe conditions.”