For weeks representatives of refugees, together with anti-racist organisations, have asked about the safety of the Bibby Stockholm barge. We received assurances that the vessel would be safe and would meet all regulatory standards. Now we know this was not true – that the barge has been viewed by experts as a risk to health and safety.

Lynne Hubbard, co-chair of Stand Up To Racism Dorset, asks: “Why has Suella Braverman been prepared to gamble with the lives of refugees and others working on the barge? Fire safety is a key concern: why has it taken months to address such a basic issue?”

Dorset’s fire authority warns that it may be compelled to “exercise our enforcement powers” if the barge does not meet legal standards. The Fire Brigades Union has criticised “a reckless approach to the safety and well-being of both vulnerable refugees and firefighters.”

“Everyone has the right to live in safe accommodation,” says the union, backing calls to abandon plans for the barge to house refugees.

Our welcome to Dorset

If the government insists on placing refugees on the barge we offer them a welcome to Dorset. Stand Up To Racism has organised welcome packs for the first 50 refugees and is working to provide assistance with legal issues, English language, sporting activities and cultural events.

Many people in Portland and Weymouth have come forward to offer support. “The government may think that refugee lives are cheap,” says Lynne Hubbard, “but people in our communities know differently and want to show that this is a welcoming place”.

Claims backlog

Stand Up To Racism believes that millions of pounds are being wasted on payments to owners of the Bibby Stockholm and to Portland Port, owned by Dorset business Langham Industries. These resources should be used to speed up the process for asylum claims.

Some 160,000 people who have applied for asylum in the UK are waiting for their claims to be assessed. In 2014, 90 percent of cases were assessed within six months; today the figure is 10 percent. Some refugees wait for years with no outcome, adding to the distress that many have experienced after fleeing war and persecution.

The government seems intent on scapegoating refugees, hoping to blame them for its own many failures. “Braverman and her friends among the Tories seems to think they can spread hatred and fear of these vulnerable people,” says Lynne Hubbard. “But every day more people see through this policy – and the latest callous attempt to put people on a barge that doesn’t meet basic safety standards is rallying our communities to support the refugees.”

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