A new report lays bare what life is like on the UK’s floating prison-barge, the Bibby Stockholm.

Produced by Care4Calais, Portland Global Friendship Group and Stand up to Racism Dorset, ‘The Bibby Stockholm: A People’s Inquiry’, compiles the lived experience of people living on the barge, evidence from the charities supporting them, and the testimony of a former staff member turned whistleblower.

A number of people who have been residents on the barge have taken part in the Inquiry, including the man who shared a room with Leonard Farruku, who lost his life on the Bibby Stockholm in December 2023.

Each of the residents outline how the prison-like conditions have affected people’s mental health. 

‘T’ who fled religious persecution in his home country before flying to the UK to try and join family, told the Inquiry’s researchers: ‘Staying alone in a closed area affects mental health. People have mental health problems on the Bibby. I felt depressed – I tried my best to escape that place. I tried to confront the depression, and I am much better now that I am not there. Many people are struggling there.’

Evidence provided to the Inquiry shows the Government’s systematic non-compliance with their own suitability policy. ‘A’, a queer refugee, was sent to the barge despite being gender fluid and only moved after charities lodged safeguarding concerns. ‘A’ told the People’s Inquiry: ‘Because I am gender fluid, I am an obvious target, which always puts me in danger. The Home Office was aware of all of this, but I was still moved to the Bibby Stockholm, where everyone is male and has to share a room.’

Residents commonly complained that their movements on and off the barge are restricted. Even to leave the barge for a walk, each resident has to go through airport style security. ‘S’ told the Inquiry: ‘When leaving and entering, we have to be scanned, like airport security. Many people don’t go outside because of this.’

Levana was employed to work on the Bibby Stockholm but says she received a verbal warning from her bosses that she was being too friendly with the barge’s residents. Levana then never received another shift from the Bibby contractor.

Despite charities and local organisations filling the gaps that public authorities haven’t, none are allowed access to the Bibby Stockholm. The residents of the barge regularly told the researchers that the barge was meant to be their home, but they were never allowed anyone to visit. ‘C’ said: ‘Our family right now in Portland is the global friendship group, but the (authorities don’t allow them to come inside to see us. Even if we are not feeling well and they would like to visit, they are not allowed to come here.’

The report sets out a number of key demands, the main one being that the barge is closed and the contract is not renewed.

Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais said: ‘People should not be accommodated in these prison-like conditions. That’s particularly true of people who have survived horrors torture and modern slavery. The People’s Inquiry sets out in some detail the human cost of the Bibby Stockholm and presents a comprehensive case for it being closed down.’

Candy Udwin, joint secretary of Dorset Stand up to Racism, added: ‘Our experience in Portland is that segregating those seeking asylum on the barge is detrimental both for the refugees, and for their integration into the local community. The Bibby Stockholm is inhumane, should be shut down and any future government should pledge not to renew its contract.’

The People’s Inquiry report is dedicated to the memory of Leonard Farruku, who lost his life on the Bibby Stockholm in December 2023.

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