Anti-racists have slammed the Tories for having “no respect for refugees’ lives” after the discovery of a potentially deadly bacteria on the prison barge in Dorset.
Only four days after 39 refugees were forced onto the Bibby Stockholm in Portland, they are being taken off after tests found Legionella in its water system on Friday.
But the refugees only found out about the Legionella, and that they’d be moved to hotels, after anti-racists contacted them with the news. One refugee texted, “Nobody told us that we would be moved. We’ve only just heard about it from the news. Nobody pays any attention to us.”
As soon as news of the disease broke, activists from Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) Dorset called a protest outside the barge against the Tories. “It was a good turnout,” Lynne Hubbard, co-chair of the local group, told Socialist Worker.
“What’s really shocking is that the test results hadn’t been cleared before refugees were admitted onto the barge. That’s pretty damning. The Tories don’t respect the lives of refugees, but we’re getting them on the run.
“It’s also making us question whether they had confirmed about fire safety and finalised the certificates. There’s still issues like narrow corridors and an evacuation area that won’t hold over 500 people.
The bacteria can cause Legionnaires disease—a type of pneumonia. One in ten who catch the disease die from illness and complications.
Tests were carried out by local environmental health with the results being received by a contractor on Monday, the day the first 15 refugees arrived. But the Home Office went ahead and moved the refugees onto the boat before receiving the results.
The council informed the Home Office on Wednesday of “low levels”, and further results on Thursday “changed the picture”. The UK Health Security Agency advised on Thursday that the six new asylum seekers on the barge should disembark, and now that all should be removed.
The Home Office threatened the refugees who didn’t want to move onto the barge that they would lose all support if they didn’t move on. Delays to the move in date were caused by fire safety concerns after experts described the barge as a “floating Grenfell”.
The Tories wanted to house 500 men on the barge while they wait for a decision on their asylum cases. One refugee told the BBC that a few of the residents had sore throats and had been coughing and having breathing problems.
The Home Office claims none of the refugees on board have symptoms and received “appropriate advice and support”.
Lynne said the refugees had been deeply affected by the constant changes to their living situation. “One of the refugees came to our SUTR meeting on Wednesday and his mental health has plummeted,” she said.
“This is the last straw for some of the refugees. They’re not sure where they’re going to be moved to. Many of them were in hotels in Bournemouth where they had networks and friends.
“But our activists have set up a number they can call if they need help. And they have their own WhatsApp group to connect with each other. They have their own agency and ability to self-organise with people who want to work with them. That’s really important too.”
Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the government had turned itself “into a laughingstock”. But there’s nothing funny about the Tories’ brutality towards refugees—which Labour wants to match. Kinnock is desperate to show that Labour would do a better job of clamping down on asylum seekers.
Portland’s Labour mayor Caroline Parks has launched a legal challenge around the barge’s planning permission on behalf of “concerned local residents”.
Lynne said anti-refugee campaigners—who’ve held protests over refugees coming—are finding it more difficult to organise. But they plan to hold a protest on Sunday.
“More and more people have been taken aback by this and are getting involved,” said Lynne. “We’re dispelling the idea that all white working class people are racist.” She said they were proving that “people won’t fall for the lies and scapegoating” if those ideas are challenged by anti-racists.
“We will continue to protest against the barge, welcome refugees and stand against the Tories.”