1 of 3 | Britain said Monday it had secured two more engineless barges similar to the Bibby Stockholm (pictured last month arriving in Falmouth for a re-fit) to accommodate asylum seekers as part of a plan to tackle thousands of small boats arriving on its shores each year. File photo by Jon Rowley/EPA-EFE
June 5 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Monday his government had secured two additional barges to accommodate another 1,000 asylum seekers as part of his plan to stop small boats crossing the English Channel.
The barges are in addition to the 10,000-ton Bibby Stockholm, currently being re-fitted to house 500 asylum single men off the south coast, but Sunak refused to say where they would be moored.
The prime minister said the barges "will relieve pressure on local communities" and spaces in hotels being used to house migrants and pledged "extensive engagement with local communities" prior to the siting of the barges.
He added that many thousands of places had been added by making asylum seekers share hotel rooms and repurposing two military sites to house 3,000 people which, together with the barges, would reduce the $7.5 million a day being spent on hotels.
"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," Sunak said.
The siting of the Bibby Stockholm off Portland, midway between Southampton and Portsmouth, has already been met with opposition from local people who fear the impact of the arrival of 500 men on a town with a population of just 13,000.
Protestors in their thousands demonstrated at Portland port Sunday ahead of the arrival of the barge later this month angry that Portland was selected to house the barge without consultation.
Sunak, who has made reducing the number of asylum seekers arriving on small boats -- 45,722 in 2022 -- and eliminating lengthy delays in processing their claims a cornerstone of his premiership, insisted his plan was "starting work" and that numbers were down by a fifth.
A returns deal with Albania had also seen 1,800 people being sent home, Sunak said.
However, Home Office figures published last month show the backlog of people awaiting a decision for more than six months has grown to three-quarters of all those waiting -- up by almost 20,000 to a record 128,812.
Labor Party opposition leader Keir Starmer said the announcements contained no new ideas and called on the government to concentrate on securing more returns agreements.
"We need to stop the boats. We're clear we don't want anyone making that dangerous journey.
"But all we've had from the government is policies that aren't working, then the re-announcement of the same policy, with a self-congratulatory pat on the back," said Starmer. "It feels like groundhog day and it's costing the taxpayer a fortune."
The government's controversial Illegal Migration Bill which passed in April and is now in House of Lords, aims to deter people from arriving in small boats by making it illegal.
The law will see all arrivals detained and deported to their own country, or a safe third country such as Rwanda, and banned from ever returning to or applying for British citizenship.