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Arrival of first asylum seekers on Bibby Stockholm barge delayed

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Asylum seekers will not be moved on to the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge on Tuesday as planned after last minute meetings responding to fire safety concerns, Sky News understands.

However, there is still a possibility that they could be moved on to the barge – which is currently docked in Portland on the coast of Dorset – later this week.

The first asylum seekers were originally due to move on to the barge last week, but Sky News reported that their arrival had been pushed back until Tuesday this week.

The Times reported that serious safety concerns were raised about the facility and that approval from the fire service was outstanding.

One source told the paper of fears that the vessel could become a “floating Grenfell” – a reference to the fire that broke out at the west London tower block in 2017, killing 72 people.

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Following reports of a delay, a Home Office spokesperson said the vessel was “undergoing final preparations to ensure it complies with all appropriate regulations before the arrival of the first asylum seekers”.

“This is part of the government’s plan to reduce the use of expensive hotels and offer alternative accommodation that is more manageable and better value for communities, just like our European neighbours are already doing,” they added.

“We continue to work closely with Dorset and Portland councils, as well as the local NHS and police services, to manage any impact in Portland, including providing substantial funding to local services, to address the local community’s concerns.”

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What’s it like onboard the Bibby Stockholm?

The 222-bedroom barge will start housing 50 single men initially before housing up to 500 people who are currently staying in hotels.

The Bibby Stockholm will have 24-hour security and accommodate single men only, who will sleep in bunk beds with between two and six people per en suite room.

The barge has attracted a backlash from Tory MPs, including Richard Drax, who represents South Dorset, and Chris Loder, for West Dorset, who has demanded to see safety reports and claimed it is going to house double the amount of people it is designed to hold.

Ben Selby, the assistant general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, also criticised what he called “a reckless approach to the safety and well-being of both vulnerable refugees and firefighters”.

“The Home Office has declared that this plan is a cheaper option for housing asylum seekers,” he said.

“This is a damning indictment of the prevailing attitude that saving money is the highest priority, with people’s lives treated as collateral damage.

“Everyone has the right to live in safe accommodation and we back the calls urging these plans are abandoned immediately.”

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Tents for asylum seekers branded ‘cruel’

The Bibby Stockholm is just one of a number of alternative sites the government has located to end the use of hotels, which is costing the taxpayer around £6m a day.

As well as the barge, the Home Office also plans to move people into disused military sites – including RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire and Wethersfield Airfield in Essex – and into marquees.

However, the plans to move 2,000 asylum seekers to RAF Scampton have also hit a stumbling block until October, after there were setbacks in conducting surveys on the 14 buildings designated for migrant accommodation.

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Asked about the delay on Monday, the prime minister’s press secretary said: “Work is ongoing to open [the] site at Scampton and we want that work to be done as soon as possible.

“I can’t get into running commentary on expected timelines but eventually the site will accommodate almost 2,000 people.”

The Times also reported that more migrants will be moved into accommodation at Wethersfield Airfield despite a number of positive results for tuberculosis being detected at the site.

Last week separate plans by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, to accommodate thousands of migrants in marquees at disused military sites were criticised as “staggering” and “cruel” by critics.

The tents will start to be erected over the coming weeks as part of emergency plans to deal with an expected surge of Channel crossings over the next few months.

A source from the Home Office confirmed to Sky News that the tents could be up and running to house migrants within weeks.

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