Sunak government quietly deletes damning report on Bibby Stockholm barge

Impact assessment which found radical plan ‘discriminatory’ pulled from government website

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Friday 29 December 2023 15:22
Cleverly promises investigation after asylum seeker dies on Bibby Stockholm

Rishi Sunak’s government has deleted an official report that found that housing asylum seekers on a barge and former airbase was discriminatory.

The impact assessment – which found housing migrants on the Bibby Stockholm barge discriminated on the grounds of age and sex – was deleted from the government’s website on Friday.

The move came two days after being published. A note on the government’s website said only that the report was “published in error”.

Another impact assessment that made similar findings for the former RAF Wethersfield in Essex was also removed from the government’s website on Friday, a day after being published.

Mr Sunak’s ministers have previously declined to publish an equality impact assessment for the highly-controversial plan to place migrants on the Bibby Stockholm on the Dorset coast.

In September, then-immigration minister Robert Jenrick told Labour MP Zarah Sultana such assessments were “for internal use” and “not routinely published”.

The assessment published on Wednesday found that the policy of housing up to 500 single men on the barge – currently moored at Portland – was “directly discriminating in relation to age (and) sex” because the barge is only suitable for men aged 18 to 65.

Flowers are left at the entrance at Portland Port in Dorset, following the death of an asylum seeker on board the Bibby Stockholm

However, the document noted that the Equality Act allows for such discrimination if it is “justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

The assessment argued that the greater need to house male asylum seekers within that age range in accommodation other than hotels justified discriminating on the grounds of age and sex.

The impact assessment for the former Wethersfield airbase drew similar conclusions.

Housing asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm and at Wethersfield has drawn huge opposition from campaigners, who have criticised conditions at both locations as “prison-like”.

Charlotte Khan, head of advocacy and public affairs at Care4Calais, said the public “have a right to know how our government are treating the survivors of war, torture and modern slavery”.

The charity campaigner said: “Deleting the equality impact assessments from the Home Office website may remove an official watermark from the government’s mistreatment of asylum seekers.

“But, everyday, behind the barbed wire fences, people’s health and wellbeing is suffering from being held in these prison-like barges and camps,” she added.

Earlier this month an asylum seeker was found dead on board the Bibby Stockholm – sparking fresh condemnation of the radical plan.

Care4Calais and police initially confirmed the news of the man’s death and MP for South Dorset, Richard Drax, said that the person had taken his own life.

Charities have said they have seen a serious deterioration in the mental health of those being held on the barge. Care4Calais said it had regularly been reporting suicidal intentions among people on board, with no action taken.

Rishi Sunak is under immense pressure to clear the asylum backlog

However, The Independent understands that there are currently no plans to move asylum seekers off the Bibby Stockholm barge.

The Independent revealed before Christmas that an Afghan pilot who helped Britain in its war against the Taliban is one of thousands of refugees facing homelessness after the Home Office changed its rules on evictions.

As the Home Office pushes to clear the asylum application backlog, some refugees in hotels have been given as little as a week to find a new place to live.

More than 13,000 refugees with recently granted asylum status have gone to councils for emergency help in 2023 so far.

Mr Sunak is under pressure from Tory MPs to clear asylum seekers from hotels, get Rwanda deportation flights started and cut record levels of net migration ahead of the 2024 general election.

The Home Office has been contacted for comment.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to to find a helpline near you.

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