Bibby Stockholm residents’ mental health at risk from overcrowding, MPs say | Bibby Stockholm

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Overcrowded conditions on the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge, where up to six men are sharing a room designed for one person, may be putting the mental health of asylum seekers at risk, MPs have said.

Last month a delegation of MPs and peers from the cross-party home affairs committee and the joint committee on human rights visited the barge, which accommodates about 300 people in Portland, Dorset, and spoke to residents and staff.

After the visit, the group wrote to ministers to set out serious concerns about the wellbeing of men on the barge.

The group of MPs and peers said “many asylum seekers expressed mental health concerns”, with one man telling them he had suicidal thoughts as a result of being housed on the barge.

Location of the Bibby Stockholm barge

Leonard Farruku, a 27-year-old Albanian man, was found dead on the barge on 12 December 2023 after a suspected suicide.

The delegation also raised concerns about discrepancies in information provided by officials and the asylum seekers themselves. For example, there was confusion about whether a GP was available onboard every day or for one day a week. Organisations working with the men told the delegation the barge felt like a prison.

In their letter to ministers, the group wrote: “We were disheartened to see some of the living conditions on the Bibby Stockholm, with many individuals having to share small, cramped cabins [originally designed for one person], often with people [up to six] they do not know [some of whom spoke a different language to them].

“These crowded conditions were clearly contributing to a decline in mental health for some of the residents, and they could amount to violations of the human rights of asylum seekers.”

Diana Johnson, the chair of the home affairs committee, said: “Beyond the question of whether housing asylum seekers on a barge instead of hotels is actually value for money, which we are still seeking further information on from the Home Office, we need to know that they are living in conditions that are not detrimental to their wellbeing.

“We are concerned that housing asylum claimants on Bibby Stockholm is leaving them in a claustrophobic environment, isolated from external support, including legal advice, and without important links to community, faith or family, potentially for months on end.

“Support services on the barge must be adequate to meet the needs of those housed there, and if not, that there are practical steps in place to allow them to be accessed in the wider community.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The health and welfare of asylum seekers on board the Bibby Stockholm is of the utmost priority, and we constantly work to ensure the needs and vulnerabilities of those residing on the vessel are identified and met. Asylum seekers are screened to identify vulnerable individuals and ensure they are placed in suitable accommodation.

“There are rigorous safeguarding processes in place on the barge. Residents have access to health and social care services, including mental health support. If concerns are raised about any aspect of the service delivered, we work with the provider to ensure these are swiftly addressed, and Migrant Help 24/7 is also available every day of the year.”

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