Following the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water system, the Home Office is coming under increasing pressure to respond to inquiries over the transfer of asylum seekers from the Bibby Stockholm boat.
The department’s “incompetence” has been criticised by conservative backbenchers after the 39 passengers who had boarded the ship were moved to new quarters on Friday night.
While this was going on, Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, emailed his counterpart on Saturday to inquire as to what knowledge the Home Office had on the possibility of the germs being present prior to loading migrants onto the barge.
According to the department, all 39 passengers were forced to disembark as a “precautionary measure” after samples taken from the water system revealed levels of Legionella that necessitated further examination.
According to the Home Office, all immigrants are receiving “appropriate advice and support” and have not contracted Legionnaires’ disease, a deadly form of pneumonia.
The transfer of an additional six migrants onto the barge took place on Thursday despite the fact that department officials are believed to have been informed by Dorset Council on Wednesday evening about the discovery of preliminary results showing the presence of the germs.
According to government sources, on Thursday, the UK Health Security Agency informed ministers that Legionella had been discovered in the ship’s water system and advised them to evacuate those six migrants.
The government anticipates using the Bibby Stockholm, which has a capacity of more than 500, to reduce the £6 million daily spent on hotel expenses for asylum seekers awaiting the results of their applications.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis claimed that even without the germs, the barge would not be a “solution” to the backlog.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The primary thing that’s been revealed has been the startling incompetence of the Home Office itself… It’s really, really hard to understand how, at all layers, this could not be caught early”.
The senior Conservative MP suggested the problems could be related to “management” of the department rather than “ministerial” issues specifically, but added: “Even working properly, the Bibby barge would only take effectively one day’s arrivals.
“So it’s not a solution to the problem and all of this is going to go on until the Home Office is able to process these arrivals more quickly.”
The evacuation, Tim Loughton claimed, was a “embarrassment” and reeked of “incompetence,” occurring at the close of a week in which the government had scheduled a number of announcements to support its immigration policy.
The Tory MP told the Telegraph: “This is deeply troubling and rapidly turning into a farce that the Home Office can ill afford.”
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has been urged by Mr Kinnock to answer a series of questions about the “extremely troubling matter” of the evacuation.
“This whole sorry affair is yet another shambolic example of the chaos, incompetence and confusion that have come to define the way in which this Government is dealing with the asylum crisis that it has created,” the shadow minister wrote .
“Why should the British public trust you to deal effectively with this mess when every measure you announce either fails to deliver, never gets off the ground, or just makes everything worse?”
Mr Kinnock later tweeted: “Has anyone seen Suella Braverman?”
It is believed that Mr. Kinnock’s letter has been received, and although the timing of this answer is unknown, one will be given.
According to government officials, all who were on board are currently getting health examinations by medical personnel.
Legionnaires’ illness, a serious form of pneumonia, can be brought on by inhaling the bacteria Legionella.
It can develop in artificial water systems, especially if the plumbing hasn’t been utilised for a while.
Professor Paul Hunter, a specialist in public health, stated that it would have been clear to screen for bacteria before boarding the barge.
Although the Home Office has stated that no one has fallen ill, he claimed it was feasible that passengers on board may have been exposed to Legionella if they took a shower because this can produce a mist of the bacteria that can be breathed.
“Certainly if we… had had a (hospital) ward that had not been open for a number of weeks and the water was still in the pipes, we would check that before we actually started moving patients into that ward, and this didn’t seem to happen. This is very concerning,” Prof Hunter told Today.
The Home Office said: “The health and welfare of asylum seekers remains of the utmost priority.
“The Home Office and our contractors are following all protocol and advice from Dorset Council’s Environmental Health team, UK Health Security Agency and Dorset NHS who we are working closely with.”