In an effort to reduce Channel crossings, Rishi Sunak has announced the acquisition of two additional barges to accommodate asylum seekers. The prime minister did not disclose the location of the barges, but confirmed they would have the capacity to house an extra one thousand migrants who enter the UK illegally. The government has already secured the Bibby Stockholm, a ship that will provide accommodation for approximately 500 male asylum seekers off the Dorset coast.
Sunak revealed that the first ship will dock in Portland within two weeks, and two more barges have been secured. He said, “To reduce pressures on local communities, we will also house people on ships. The first will arrive in Portland in the next fortnight and we’ve secured another two today.” Furthermore, Sunak mentioned that thousands of additional spaces for migrants had been found in hotels by making people share rooms.
Despite protests outside accommodation in Pimlico, London, the prime minister insisted that this arrangement was “more than fair.” He stated, “If you’re coming here illegally claiming sanctuary from death, torture or persecution, then you should be willing to share a taxpayer-funded hotel room in central London.” Opposition critics accused Sunak of “cynical spin” to detract from the backlog of asylum seeker applications and likened the announcement of more measures to tackle migration to “Groundhog Day.”
However, Sunak, who has staked his premiership on reducing Channel crossings, said the number of journeys had decreased by around a fifth since last year and insisted “our plan is starting to work.” He highlighted that the returns deal with Albania had led to 1,800 people being sent back and was having a deterrent effect, with the number of people arriving illegally from that country down by “almost 90%.”
Regarding the inclusion of children in new detention rules, Sunak defended the decision, claiming that exempting them would create an “incentive” for smugglers to put more young people on boats. He suggested that the UK was doing better than other European countries in tackling illegal migration but acknowledged that the government was not “complacent.”
Preparations are underway to increase detention capacity, court capacity, and removal efforts once legal challenges are complete. Sunak said, “With grit and determination, the government can fix this, and we are using every tool at our disposal.”
In response, Sir Keir Starmer said the promise of further measures to tackle the crisis was “like Groundhog Day” and urged the government to focus on securing more returns agreements. The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, dismissed Sunak’s speech as “cynical spin” and called for more information on the two new barges. Alastair Carmichael, the party’s home affairs spokesman, said, “The public need clarity and transparency from the government on where these barges will be and how long they will stay there.”
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