Sunday People

Asylum seekers: We won’t go back to‘prison’ barge

Fears of disease, fire & isolation as one already attempts suicide


THE 39 asylum seekers evacuated from the Bibby Stockholm in fear of a deadly outbreak of legionnair­es’ disease say they would rather mutiny than go back on board.

One was so terrified of returning that he attempted suicide. One of the group told how they cared for the man themselves, keeping the incident quiet for fear it could affect his future in the UK.

Now, after taking legal advice, they are vowing to band together to resist going back to the barge.

The man, from a Middle Eastern country with an appalling human rights record, told us: “All 39 have decided to unite and refuse to board.

“We know if they want to they can force us to go back on, but this is our only hope to pressure the Home Office into listening to us.

“The main reason my friend tried to take his own life was the prospect of going back to the boat.”

The asylum seeker spoke out days after Home Secretary Suella Braverman was sent a three-page open letter setting out the men’s fears and despair. In it, they describe the Bibby Stockholm as “an unsafe, frightenin­g and isolated place” – and ask for her help in finding freedom in the UK.

While they have not been given official notice of a return date, the man says a member of staff at the hotel where they are being housed had told him it could be in two weeks.

But he warned there could be more suicide attempts if the men are made to go back. He said: “The ship is a tipping point.

“It is driving people to suicide.

We’ve all been subjected to torture in our home countries. We fled to a safe country to be more at ease.

“But they are treating us like prisoners – the ship is like a prison. It’s causing so much distress.”

He says they are also terrified they will burn to death if fire breaks out on the barge, set to house 500 people.

He added: “If there are only three fire doors, and if only one person can get through those doors at a time, it will take a long time to evacuate.

“I think people could die. A great number of lives would be in danger.”

The removal of the asylum seekers on August 11 – four days after they arrived – followed the discovery of the legionella bacteria in the ship’s water system.

It can cause pneumonia and can be fatal to those in a weakened state.

The man told us: “We’re scared legionella will still be on the ship.

“We’re still worried about drinking the water and showering. And we think there are other diseases on the ship which haven’t been found yet.”

While on board, the men are free to come and go – but the man says tight security made that so difficult that it felt like a prison. They were not allowed to walk around Portland Port and had to wait for a bus to take them off-site.

He said besides the cramped rooms, the IT room had no computers, the gym was full of broken kit, and the promised English lessons never materialis­ed.

Now housed in a hotel he describes as “dirty and abandoned,” he added: “At least in our home countries, which we had to flee, we had our families. Now we don’t even have that.

“We can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. All of us could end up like my friend who tried to take his life.”

The Home Office said: “The health and welfare of asylum seekers remains of the utmost priority. All were informed in advance of the decision to disembark, and provided support including access to staff and interprete­rs.

“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.”

We’re scared of disease and are all terrified we’ll burn to death

 ?? ?? BACKING Fury at ‘death’ boat
BLEAK The Bibby Stockholm sits on quay at Portland
ARRIVAL Men board the barge
BACKING Fury at ‘death’ boat BLEAK The Bibby Stockholm sits on quay at Portland ARRIVAL Men board the barge

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