Wirral barge plan for refugees dropped by government

The government has abandoned its plans to house 1,000 asylum seekers on a barge on the River Mersey after facing opposition from protestors, local MPs, and authorities in Wirral.

On 6 June, 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 protesters slammed the now dropped plans to house asylum seekers on a barge as “terrible” stating the government should be “protecting not punishing people who are seeking safety.”

Mick Whitley, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, said, “Having lobbied both the government and Peel on this issue extensively, I’m pleased that these plans have been axed.

“Ministers need to get serious about tackling the backlog and start treating vulnerable asylum seekers with respect – including by allowing them to seek paid work.”

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said, “Glad that common sense has prevailed here. Our region is open to those fleeing for their lives but this was an unworkable and inhumane idea.

“If the government put half as much effort into clearing the asylum backlog as these awful ideas we’d be in a very different situation.”

The Home Office stated that the ongoing demands on the asylum system necessitate exploring a range of accommodation options.

Previously, the government revealed that housing asylum seekers in hotels cost nearly £7 million per day.

A Home Office spokeswoman affirmed their commitment to collaborating closely with all councils and key partners. They also mentioned that other European countries were considering utilizing vessels as temporary accommodation.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed that barges would alleviate pressure on communities and hotels accommodating migrants.

Wirral Council Leader, Councillor Paul Stuart, said, “When the Home Office initially contacted Wirral council, they proposed a large vessel to accommodate 1,500 Single Adult Males (SAMs). However, the vessel had a capacity of up to 1,800.

“They had not even done their research. The vessel was too large for our docks. They then proposed two smaller vessels with the potential for even higher capacity. The idea that as many as 2,000 asylum seekers, people fleeing persecution and torture, would be marooned on barges, effectively prison ships, is immoral and inhumane.”

The first barge to house asylum seekers is scheduled to dock in Portland Port, Dorset this month, despite protests highlighting the impact on local services.

Dame Angela Eagle, the Labour MP for Wallasey, stated that the scrapped Mersey proposal was never a viable and humane plan. She also noted that the wider region already supports a higher-than-average number of asylum seekers and refugees.

Peel Ports, the operator of the port’s infrastructure, issued a statement clarifying that they had consistently stated their ability to provide a berth for the barge. However, they highlighted the necessity of support from local agencies, which they did not foresee being available to make the solution work.


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