UK asylum seeker dies aboard residential barge News
Ashley Smith, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
UK asylum seeker dies aboard residential barge

UK police and UK Home Secretary James Cleverly announced Tuesday the death of an asylum seeker on board the Bibby Stockholm, a barge housing asylum seekers on the south coast of England. Police said they were alerted to a sudden death on the boat, and the coroner is now investigating the circumstances of the fatality. The BBC and other news outlets are reporting that, according to their sources, the death was a suicide. JURIST has not been able to independently verify these reports.

While the complete circumstances of the death are not yet known, refugee rights organizations have expressed profound apprehensions over the fear and isolation experienced by those on board the Bibby Stockholm. Director of Care4Calais Steve Smith stated in a series of posts on X (formerly Twitter) that the men on board the barge “are being separated from the rest of society.” He continued to say:

[We have] witnessed a serious deterioration of people’s mental health. We have regularly been reporting suicidal intentions amongst residents and no action is taken…It’s time our political leaders treated them as human beings, listened to the trauma they have experienced and offered them sanctuary.

Before arriving in UK waters, the Bibby Stockholm was used to house asylum seekers in Rotterdam in 2005. Afterwards it was used to accommodate construction workers on various offshore projects. It was brought to the UK earlier this year in a controversial move by the government and began housing asylum seekers in August. However, just a few days later, they had to be evacuated due to a legionella scare.

At the time, Amnesty International UK said that the barge was “an utterly shameful way to house people who’ve fled terror, conflict and persecution.” The Fire Brigades Union also expressed concerns over the safety of the structure. In October, asylum seekers were returned to the barge and the government announced new procedures for those who refused to go, involving the revocation of support from the Home Office.

Human rights groups in the UK have continued to express their outrage at the use of the barge to house asylum seekers, citing concerns over the living conditions and the welfare of vulnerable people seeking refuge. Upon going back to the barge, one asylum seeker told the Guardian, “I am worried and afraid. I do not want to go to the barge but I don’t have the courage to disobey. I am literally helpless. I don’t know what is waiting for me.” They continued, “We feel like pawns in their game, guinea pigs in their experiments. What experiment will they enact on us next? What is at the end of this devastating and crazy wait? Will I be able to save my life and my family?”