Protesters oppose the Tories’ prison barge for refugees in Portland Harbour

Britain’s first prison barge exclusively for refugees is to be berthed in Portland Harbour, Dorset. The news was greeted by a demonstration of solidarity with refugees and an angry protest at the idea of incarcerating people who have done nothing more than claim asylum.

Around 100 people marched in Portland last Saturday to say, “Refugees are welcome here—no prison barge.” Called by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) Dorset, the march was supported by local trade unions, community groups and churches.

Speakers spelled out the inhumanity of confining people who have escaped war, conflict and crisis. And they attacked the cynicism of Portland Port, which will make £2.5 million from berthing the barge during the first 18 months of its contract with the Home Office.

Grafton Straker, Unite union convenor and joint chair of SUTR Dorset, said, “This is unforgiveable—exploiting people whom we should be welcoming and supporting in our communities.”

The barge, the Bibby Stockholm, is a warren of corridors and tiny rooms. It was earlier used to confine migrants in the Netherlands. But the practice was abandoned after an undercover investigation found mistreatment including sexual assault by guards.

Portland Port is owned by Langham Industries, which recently tried to develop a polluting incinerator on Portland. The project was seen off by a determined local campaign.

Now Langham wants to make money at the expense of 500 refugees who will be confined on a barge built for half that number. Demonstrators in Portland carried their own barge, with slogans, “No profiteering from refugees,” and, “Langham shames Dorset.”

Alastair Kay, vicar of nearby Wyke Regis, told demonstrators, “We should welcome refugees as our friends. We cannot accept the immorality of imprisonment and the dangerous divisions that are being encouraged in our communities.”

Lynne Hubbard, a health worker and joint chair of SUTR Dorset, said, “Many refugees have skills we’re crying out for—especially in our NHS. Migrants made our NHS—our local hospital depends on them.

“Let’s welcome refugees and invite the many refugee doctors, nurses and other health professionals into our workplaces and communities.”

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