Protesters slam plans to house asylum seekers on a barge in Wirral as ‘a recipe for disaster’

Protesters have slammed plans to house asylum seekers on a barge as “terrible” stating the government should be “protecting not punishing people who are seeking safety.”

The protest was over a proposal by the government to house between 1500 and 1800 asylum seekers near the Wirral Waters regeneration project in Birkenhead.

On June 6, protesters from Heart4Refugees, Asylum Link Merseyside, and Asylum Matters gathered outside the Titanic Hotel in Liverpool while a meeting was being held by Peel Ports. Protesters said they wanted to put pressure on the company to oppose the plans altogether.

The plans come as the government said it is looking at moving asylum seekers out of hotels and onto barges and ferries in a bid to cut down on costs. It currently costs £6m a day to house asylum seekers in hotels according to the Home Office with 51,000 people in different types of accommodation

However the Wirral plans have been criticised by politicians across the Liverpool City Region. The proposal has been described as a “prison ship” and “inhumane and unworkable” with Wirral’s council leader Paul Stuart calling it “grotesque.” Wirral’s Conservative councillors are also against the idea.

It’s understood there’s no contract currently in place but protesters want to see Peel go further and reject the plans outright, arguing such a move would “demonstrate they have a humanitarian side.”

Julia Savage, from Asylum Matters, said, “We are here for them to publicly say they are opposed to any agreement with the government. We are here to ask them not to do this.

“It’s welcome they have said they won’t do it without the cooperation of the local authorities but we want it to go further. We want them to say it publicly because it won’t be good for anyone, for people seeking safety nor for anyone else.

“All our communities welcome people seeking asylum from war and persecution but everybody can see it’s a terrible idea. There isn’t anybody who thinks this isn’t a terrible idea apart from the government and the government should be protecting not punishing people who are seeking safety.”

A spokesperson for Peel Ports said, “We have been clear from the outset that any agreement to accommodate a vessel for refugees in Birkenhead will require the willing participation and full collaboration of local agencies.

“We have seen this model work over the course of last year, as we provided a berth for a vessel accommodating refugees in Glasgow. This was delivered with the full support of the local agencies working in partnership with the vessel’s management and port operations.”

A representative from Peel also said the decision needed to be taken by the government and local authorities, not Peel Ports.

At the protest, cars and lorries honked their horns in support despite the occasional negative comment from drivers. Ewan Roberts said the response was “really surprising,” adding, “You come from the standing point that it is unpopular but people do get it. As the sixth largest economy we should be doing more.”

Mr Roberts argued one of the reasons the government is proposing to house asylum seekers on barges is because of the backlog processing claims for people to remain in the UK.

He said, “It’s because of the utter mess that the Government has made with the asylum system,” adding: “We wouldn’t have these huge numbers that we are seeing. What they should be looking for is getting the decisions made faster. It can take two years just to get an interview and it will take far longer for a decision.”

A Home Office spokesperson said, “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow and requires us to look at a range of accommodation options which offer better value for the British taxpayer than expensive hotels.

“This is why we continue to source new alternative sites and vessels to accommodate migrants, which are more manageable for communities, as our European neighbours are doing.

“We are also taking immediate action to clear the asylum backlog by doubling the number of asylum caseworkers to take the headcount to 2,500, and streamlining interviews and paperwork.”

Concerns over the Wirral plans have also included the lack of shops, healthcare services, and amenities in the area as well as how such a large group would be integrated. Police and the fire service are also concerned about safety if there were protests or a fire on the ship.

Mr Roberts said, “What preparation has been done on the Wirral to get people ready? You have got to make sure the local community is on side.”

He said, “It’s about working with local communities and making sure that everyone understands. Otherwise you have a recipe for disaster.”

Those at the protest said they were also concerned housing asylum seekers on barges would have a negative impact on people’s mental health, especially those with PTSD leading to increased risk of suicide.

Heart4Refugees provides wellbeing support for asylum seekers and refugees as well as gardening and English classes. Kathy Vesey, Executive Director, said: “They are very isolated and demonstrate having suffered, many of them, mental trauma both in their own country but on their way here but also once here, they are also essentially living in limbo and can’t really do anything.“

Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick confirmed the plans to the House of Commons on May 25. He said, “We have not made a final decision to place a vessel in Birkenhead port.

“However, we have identified the port as a potentially viable location and are seeking to engage the local authority, the local NHS, police, other emergency services and other public agencies to help to inform a final decision.”

He said a forum was being set up which would include Wirral Council and would do everything “to protect the integrity of the Wirral Waters scheme.” He added funding would be given to Wirral Council if the project went ahead.

It’s understood asylum seekers would be able to access health and social care support they need and will undergo health checks. Any proposed vessel will be designed to provide healthcare, catering, and 24 security on board.

Main image: (L-R) Julia Savage from Asylum Matters and Ewan Roberts, from Asylum Link Merseyside.

Why not follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter? You can also send story ideas to

Share this

Subscribe to our FREE newsletter

Facebook comments

Latest news