Sunak committed to housing asylum seekers on barge

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Tuesday that his government is committed to housing asylum seekers, whom he called “illegal migrants,” on the Bibby Stockholm barge despite controversy over keeping them in the floating vessel.

Sunak told reporters during a visit to a hospital in Buckinghamshire that his government is taking a “fair approach” when it came to tackling small boat crossings.

“What has happened here is… it is right that we go through all the checks and procedures to ensure the wellbeing and health of the people being housed on the barge,” he said.

However, the prime minister avoided answering a question about whether he was warned about potential health risks for asylum seekers on board the Bibby Stockholm barge.

Controversy over the government’s plan flared up after all asylum seekers were moved on Friday from the barge moored at Portland Port in Dorset, in the country’s southwest, after Legionella bacteria were found in the on-board water system.

The report of bacteria came three days after the Home Office said the first group of asylum seekers was housed on the barge after health and safety checks were completed.

“It is about the unfairness, in fact, of British taxpayers forking out £5 million ($6.3 million) or £6 million ($7.6 million) a day to house illegal migrants in hotels up and down the country, with all the pressure that puts on local communities,” he noted.

“We’ve got to find alternatives to that, that is what the barge is about and that is why we are committed to it.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Health Minister Will Quince announced that asylum seekers would be returned to the barge in the coming days.

“Of course public health and safety is key, but we hope in the next few days we will be able to start getting people on to the Bibby Stockholm,” he told LBC Radio.

The Bibby Stockholm is one of the vessels that was announced by the government to accommodate 5,000 asylum seekers in a bid to lower the cost of hotels.

The controversial plan aims to house up to 500 men aged 18-65 on the floating barge who are waiting for the results of their asylum applications. They are currently staying in hotels.

The British premier listed tackling small boat crossings as one of his five priorities after over 45,000 migrants arrived in the country by crossing the English Channel last year.

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