Five hundred asylum seekers are set to be housed on a barge at Portland Port.

As part of plans by the Home Office and Portland Port, 506 single male asylum seekers will be housed on the Bibby Stockholm Barge at Portland Port for a minimum of 18 months.

A multi-agency forum has been set up to prepare for the imminent arrival of the barge with Dorset Council, Portland Town Council, Dorset Police and other local stakeholders all working closely together to prepare for the accommodation of the asylum seekers on Portland.

The Home Office has contracted Corporate Travel Management (CTM) to be responsible for the day-to-day management of the barge.

Dorset Echo: Representatives from Dorset Police and Dorset Council answered questions from the press at the Dorset Museum in DorchesterRepresentatives from Dorset Police and Dorset Council answered questions from the press at the Dorset Museum in Dorchester (Image: Tom Lawrence)

A press conference was held on Thursday, July 7, with Matt Prosser, chief executive of Dorset Council; Cllr Laura Beddow, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for culture and communities and Richard Bell, Chief Superintendent and Commander for Dorset Police answering questions about the plans.

Here's what we know: 

When will the Barge arrive?

The arrival date for the barge is still unknown.

The Bibby Stockholm barge is currently located in a dry dock at Falmouth Port where it is undergoing general maintenance and inspections ahead of its arrival in Dorset.

It was originally planned to arrive at the Port in Mid June but delays in the refurbishment of the barge have meant it has still not left the port.

The barge was due to undergo a safety inspection on Friday to determine whether it is safe to travel to Portland.

It is expected the barge could leave Falmouth Port early next week.

Once it leaves the dry dock in Falmouth it will take approximately two days to be tugged to Portland.

Then once on Portland there will be at least a week for the management company CTM to get on board and familiarise themselves with the facilities before asylum seekers arrive.


Will migrants be able to come and go?

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Cllr Beddow said that the asylum seekers were "not being detained" and are "free to come and go" from the barge.

However, as Portland Port is a secure facility, the asylum seekers will only be able to leave the Port via buses running from the Port to various locations.

Cllr Beddow confirmed the buses will initially run every hour from the Port with three stops planned, stopping once in Easton and twice in Weymouth.

On later dates, dedicated buses will take asylum seekers to activities and voluntary activities.


What activities will be arranged for residents of the barge?

Aboard the barge, there are quiet rooms, multi-faith rooms, rooms for card games, TV room, media room with computer access.

In the first few weeks, the multi-agency forum is working out activities for the asylum seekers to do dockside at the Port.

This will include a dignity shop which will allow the asylum seekers to have access to a wider choice of clothing such as T-shirts, trousers and hats.

Cllr Beddow said: "We have had all sorts of offers from the voluntary sector, guided walks, community gardens.

"Sporting offers such as football and handball will also be included.

“We are working with any voluntary community group you can think of.”


What is in place to deal with security concerns?

Dorset Police say they are "committed to making the county safe for all residents and visitors living in our communities."

Increased funding for community policing has been received from the Home Office. This will mean Portland has a dedicated policing presence on a daily basis to increase policing visibility and increase public engagement and confidence as a result.

Dorset Police Ch Supt Richard Bell said there would be additional police patrols, and "daily visits to the port just to make sure the facility is being well-managed".

He said: "We recognise there will be minimal impact - if that facility is well-managed and well-run - on the local community and on crime and incidents."

Dorset Council has also allocated some funding from the Home Office to provide two additional community safety officers in Portland and Weymouth, extending the operational hours of CCTV in the area and providing safeguarding training for barge staff.

Additional Community Safety Officers will split their time between Weymouth and Portland.

Asked about concerns around residents' safety, Supt Bell said: "We understand the community concern, we appreciate there is some anxiety from the community that is why we will be providing that reassuring community presence.

Cllr Beddow added: "The asylum seekers will already have been in the UK for some time, they are not new so they will be familiar with the cultural norms of the UK."


What are the concerns about tourism?

Asked about whether the barge would have a negative effect on tourism for Weymouth and Portland, Cllr Prosser said: "No I don't see why it would."


What will the accommodation look like aboard the barge?

According to Cllr Prosser, the 500 asylum seekers will be housed in "mainly twin rooms" with some rooms of four and some rooms of six.

All rooms will contain en-suite bathrooms.

Cllr Prosser confirmed the bar had now been taken out and some of the recreation rooms had been re-configured.


How much money will the asylum seekers receive?

As they are being housed, clothed and fed to a minimum standard they will receive £9.10 as a weekly cash allowance.

Cllr Prosser said this was a "standard arrangement for asylum seekers".


How will healthcare be affected?

A GP from Bournemouth will provide onboard healthcare for residents of the Bibby Stockholm barge.

NHS Dorset Cheif Medical Officer Dr Paul Johnson said the asylum seekers will have "no or minimal impact on local health services.