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2RD24R5 The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge is manoeuvred by the Mercia (centre right) and Rupert Best (bottom) into the dock at Portland, Dorset, where it is due to house migrants after travelling from dry dock in Falmouth, Cornwall. The first asylum seekers are expected to board the Bibby Stockholm later this month. Picture date: Tuesday July 18, 2023.

The Bibby Stockholm: savings or symbolism?

The Bibby Stockholm: savings or symbolism?


A barge to house asylum seekers arrived on the UK’s south coast last week. The government says it’ll help save money on accommodation costs, but is it really about politics?

The Bibby Stockholm, a floating accommodation barge, arrived at a port on England’s south coast last week. The barge landed at Portland, near Weymouth in Dorset, on Tuesday. The government’s plan is to house 500 asylum seekers there. 

The government says that part of the plan is to save money. At the moment, 51,000 asylum seekers are housed in hotels around the country. Each hotel bed costs the government more than £100 a night bringing the total cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels close to £6 million a week. Rishi Sunak told Sky that barges and other accommodation sites will “reduce pressure on hotels” and “save money”. 

But to more sceptical observers, this looks like a play for votes by the Conservatives. Across the UK, nearly 60 per cent of Conservative voters think that immigration and asylum are among the most important issues facing the country. To keep their support, the Conservative party is doubling down on its “tough on migration” stance. 

Migration charities say that any savings from the barge plan will not be significant. According to one estimate by Reclaim the Seas and One Life to Live, the plan to house people on the barge will save a maximum of £9.28 per person per day. 

Refugee organisations say that any cost savings will come at the expense of the wellbeing of asylum seekers as conditions on the barge are likely to be cramped. The vessel was initially designed to house 222 people in single-occupancy rooms, but additional beds have been added to increase that number to more than 500. Asylum seekers resident there will also have little to do and little money: asylum seekers will be entitled to an allowance of £9.10 per week, instead of the usual £45, because all catering will be provided on site. 

Opposition to the barge has been widespread in the Portland community. The local Conservative MP, Richard Drax, says that Portland, a small seaside community, is “entirely unsuitable” for the barge. The town’s mayor and the local council also disagreed with the plans to dock the Bibby Stockholm there. 

Today’s episode was written and mixed by Ella Hill.