Protesting in support of refugees on Thursday

The Home Office forced refugees back onto their prison barge in Portland, Dorset, on Thursday.

Some 30 refugees returned with another 45 set to arrive on Friday and next Monday. Two months ago the authorities removed 39 refugees from the Bibby Stockholm barge after medical checks showed a deadly strain of legionella bacteria in the water system.

Around 50 anti-racists stood in solidarity with the refugees at the gates of Portland Port and protested against the Home Office’s cruel treatment. 

Candy Udwin from Stand Up To Racism Dorset (SUTR) told Socialist Worker, “The first thing we wanted to do is make it clear that we were welcoming the refugees who were forced back onto the barge.

“It shows people in Portland want to see off attempts to stir up division and hatred.”

The anti-racists brought banners from Dorset SUTR, Unison union and PSC and NEU union flags.

And Just Stop Oil supporters temporarily blocked a coach bringing asylum seekers to the barge.

Some 23 people blocked traffic on Portland Beach Road, before moving in front of the coach. The protesters unfurled a banner reading “’No Prison Ships”. Just Stop Oil supporters in the road were repeatedly driven into, resulting in them leaving the carriageway for their own safety. Police arrested two of them.

Just Stop Oil supporters blocked the coach taking refugees to the Dorset barge

A Just Stop Oil spokesperson said, “We know that our government’s plan for new oil and gas is going to lead to more people being displaced from their homes. They will be forced from where they have lived due to the actions of our failing politicians.

“People coming to the UK must be met with common humanity, and not housed in prison ships. We are taking action today to show love and solidarity with all people coming to this country.

One refugee said to the Guardian newspaper, “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. What will the government’s next plans be for the men they are putting on the barge?

“We feel like pawns in their game, guinea pigs in their experiments.”

Candy said there are still concerns over safety on the barge. “We think they still have to replace the pipes, and there’s still a dispute over the number of people who will be on board. We were told the number is being reduced to allow for another fire exit but other reports are saying 500 will still be on board.”

For the first time, the racist No to the Barge group didn’t turn up. Candy added, “We can’t be complacent but they haven’t organised anything for a while. It means the dominant message is that there are lots of people who don’t blame refugees.

“There will still be people who listen to the Tories’ propaganda, but we’ll continue to campaign over these issues. We hope that we’ll be able to make sure the refugees don’t become targets and can meet people locally.”

Anti-racists say they will continue to advocate for the refugees, and hold welcome events—and fight to scrap the prison barge.

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