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Sadiq Khan to Block London Asylum Barge Plans

sadiq khan

Sadiq Khan has promised to block Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s plans to house hundreds of asylum seekers on a barge on the docks next to London City Airport’s runway.

The London Mayor and the Metropolitan Police are understood to be among a coalition of public and private sector organisations opposing the plans on safety grounds.

Outline of the plans

On Monday, Rishi Sunak confirmed that the Government is looking at four more sites for asylum vessels and said that thousands of asylum seekers could be housed in vessels near Newcastle, Harwich and the Royal London docks. This came as ministers are preparing for a new wave of people seeking asylum in small boats this summer, amid objections from residents and legal action over plans to house people in disused military bases.

Speaking at Dover, Sunak said he would wait to announce where the new barges would be located as there would be “extensive engagement” with local communities. He said another ship planned for 500 asylum seekers, which the Government acquired in May, would arrive in Portland off the coast of Dorset within the next two weeks.

The Prime Minister has claimed that an immigration crackdown is “starting to work” as figures revealed a 20pc fall in the number of asylum seekers making the crossing compared with last year.

However, Conservative MPs and refugee charities have questioned whether the vessels will provide humane living conditions for people escaping war, famine and torture. Opposition MPs have said that the plans are a calculated diversion from the government’s failure to reduce the backlog of asylum claims. Richard Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, attacked the “quasi-prison” conditions and Lee Anderson, Conservative party deputy chairman said using barges as well as forcing asylum seekers to share rooms was “not the answer”.

East London’s Royal Docks

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, has selected east London’s Royal Docks as one of four potential locations to house immigrants ahead of the expected influx of people arriving in small boats this summer.

The Royal Docks are managed on a day-to-day basis by Royal Docks Management Authority Limited (RoDMA), an arms-length body that is owned by the Greater London Authority, said that RoDMA is expected to confirm its opposition to the asylum barge in the coming weeks after taking soundings from its owners. It will be agreed at an upcoming board meeting before a formal rejection is issued to the Home Office.

It is understood that the Home Office could still press ahead without the blessing of the London Mayor and the Royal Docks authority – but this would likely require a change of law.

If Braverman were to insist on selecting the Royal Docks, the asylum seekers would be moored on the barge within a stone’s throw of the airport’s runway. Flights begin at 6.30am and run until 10.30pm on weekdays, 6.30am to 1pm on Saturday, and 12.30pm to 10.30pm on Sundays.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow and requires us to look at a range of accommodation options which offer better value for the British taxpayer than expensive hotels.

“This is why we continue to source new alternative sites and vessels to accommodate migrants, which are more manageable for communities, as our European neighbours are doing.

“We understand the concerns of local communities and will work closely with councils and key partners to manage the impact of using these sites, including liaising with local police to make sure appropriate arrangements are in place.” 

Sadiq Khan’s response

Sadiq Khan said he opposes the Government’s plans “in the strongest possible terms”. He explained that he is “proud of London’s history of providing sanctuary for those seeking refuge, and I am concerned that vulnerable people fleeing appalling circumstances would not have access to the support they need, with their safety, health and wellbeing being put at serious risk.” The Metropolitan Police are understood to have also concluded that the plans constitute a safety threat to those on the barge.

Khan added: “The Government’s approach to asylum seekers is cruel and unworkable and will be made worse by the illegal migration bill. Councils and relevant partners need to retain the legal powers and the funding to support asylum seekers humanely and with dignity. We all have a responsibility to help those escaping oppression and violence, and ministers need to completely rethink their plans as a matter of urgency.”

Final thought

The Government’s vilifying of asylum seekers continues as they fuel the culture war. The idea of placing asylum seekers in barges is dehumanising and poses risks to health and safety. The Mayor of London is correct to not accept the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers.

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