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First asylum seekers board accommodation barge docked on Britain's south coast

The first handful of asylum seekers boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge off Britain's south coast Monday as part of a government plan to cut the cost of hotel accommodation and slow the influx of people arriving on Britain's shores in small boats. File photo by Neil Hall/EPA-EFE
The first handful of asylum seekers boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge off Britain's south coast Monday as part of a government plan to cut the cost of hotel accommodation and slow the influx of people arriving on Britain's shores in small boats. File photo by Neil Hall/EPA-EFE

Aug. 7 (UPI) -- The first group of asylum seekers boarded a converted oil-field accommodation barge as the British government put a plan to cut costs incurred by housing them in hotel rooms into action Monday.

About 50 people -- the first of a total that could eventually exceed 500 -- made their way onto the Bibby Stockholm in Portland Port in Dorset on Britain's south coast, Sky News, the BBC and The Guardian reported.

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The arrival was greeted by a small demonstration by human rights and anti-racism activists.

Charity Care4Calais claimed it had succeeded in preventing about 20 asylum seekers from boarding the barge mostly with disabilities, suffering trauma from fleeing war and persecution or victims of modern slavery.

The men, who will live on the barge until their asylum claims are processed, agreed to relocate to the barge voluntarily, are not detained and are free to come and go as they please, which has resulted in some refusing to leave their hotels.

A coach sent to collect nine asylum seekers from the Chine Hotel in nearby Bournemouth left with just one man on board after the other eight refused to leave, the BBC reported.

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Local opposition has been somewhat assuaged by assurances that only single men with no criminal records will be placed on the barge, police saying they did not anticipate any impact on crime and Dorset Council confirming that a $2.2 million government grant meant the services it provides would not be affected.

The government said the plan would help to reduce the $7.6 million per day cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels across the country.

Plans to begin housing people on the barge, which offers en-suite bathrooms, Wi-Fi, big screen TV room, a gym, a multi-faith prayer room, a meeting room, a classroom and outdoor recreational space, were postponed for a second time in a week Tuesday.

Transport Minister Richard Holden said his understanding was that the Bibby Stockholm, docked in Portland in Dorset, was undergoing "final checks" but refused to confirm reports that serious safety issues had been flagged up and that the barge had yet to receive a clean bill of health from the fire department.

The Bibby Stockholm is one of three vessels purchased by the government to ease "unsustainable pressure on the U.K.'s asylum system" and slash spending on hotels.

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