Up to 300 refugees are living on the Bibby Stockholm prison barge (Picture: Ashley Smith)

A refugee forced to live on the Bibby Stockholm prison ship in Dorset died in a suspected suicide early on Tuesday morning.

The Tories—from Rishi Sunak to home secretary James Cleverly and his predecessor Suella Braverman—have blood on their hands. Up to 300 people live on the barge, moored at Portland Port. The Tories want to cram 500 people on-board—more than double its capacity—for months at a time.

Since the Tories commissioned the barge, it has been nothing but deadly. Refugees were moved on in mid-August, but all 39 were removed just four days later after dangerous legionella bacteria was found in the water supply.

The Home Office forced refugees back onto the prison ship on 19 October. Refugees had already written to Braverman explaining how one was driven to attempt suicide. They called the barge “an unsafe, frightening and isolated place” and a “place of exile” and were too traumatised to return. 

Even before the first refugees were moved on, the FBU firefighters’ union raised “serious fire and operational safety concerns”. It called the barge a “potential deathtrap” because of possible overcrowding, restricted windows and a lack of suitable fire exits and drills. But despite disease and death, the Tories continued to force refugees into the floating prison.

Chief executive of the Care4Calais charity Steve Smith said, “The government must take responsibility for this human tragedy. They have wilfully ignored the trauma they are inflicting on people who are sent to the Bibby Stockholm, and the hundreds being accommodated in former military barracks.

“They are being separated from the rest of society and 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.”

Enver Solomon, the Refugee Council’s chief executive, said, “This is an appalling loss of life but tragically not surprising.

“We know from our work supporting men, women and children in the asylum system that many are deeply traumatised and feel isolated, unable to get the help they need. Some are so desperate they self-harm and feel suicidal.”

As the news of the death broke, the Tories geared up for a second reading of their Rwanda bill in parliament.

Keir Starmer jeered at Sunak for his “failed” deportation plan. The Labour leader called the plan a “charade” as “not a single person has been sent”. Starmer pokes fun at the Tories while ignoring the suffering of refugees.

And when asked if Labour could consider third country offshoring of refugees, he replied, “I will look at any scheme that might work.” Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock already said in August that Labour may house refugees on barges for up to six months. Labour is not a break from Tory horror.

Refugee deaths in hotels, barges and the Channel are all preventable. But for the Tories, and Labour, being as tough as possible on vulnerable refugees as possible is the priority—regardless of the consequences.

Anti-racist should rage at their cruelty next Monday outside the Home Office. One of the protest organisers, Stand Up To Racism (SUTR), said, “This is the tragic and brutal reality of Sunak and Co’s war on refugees and migrants. We need to stop the hostile environment destroying more lives.”

Protest Refugees welcome, safe passage now, Home Office, Marsham St, London, Mon 18 December, 5.30pm. Supported by Stand Up To Racism, PCS, NEU, NASUWT, TSSA unions, XR London, Peace & Justice Project, Stop the War, DPAC, Homes4All and more

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