‘Small Boats Week’, Bibby Stockholm and Lee Anderson

10 08 23

Misbah Malik, Senior Policy and Engagement Officer at HOPE not hate writes about what the Government’s ‘Small Boats Week’ means for the far right, asylum seekers and refugees and the communities being divided by cruel and unworkable accommodation plans.

Kickstarting the Government’s so called ‘Small Boats Week’, the first 15 asylum seekers boarded the Bibby Stokholm housing barge in Portland on Monday. 

While rightly, for most the reaction is one of frustration and outrage, it is not one of shock. The Government has failed to deal with a growing asylum backlog, meaning larger numbers of people must be housed for longer periods of time. This has been outsourced to private companies making huge profits, with thousands living in limbo. Wholly inappropriate accommodation arrangements have become the norm, from student accommodation, to hotels, to army barracks. Housing vulnerable asylum seekers on a marine barge is a particularly merciless move by the Home Office.

Local community opposition to the Bibby Stokholm has made national headlines for the last few weeks. Much of this resistance is based on legitimate concerns both for the asylum seekers and for the Portland community. With plans to house double its intended capacity, the Fire Bridge Union has called the barge a “potential deathtrap”; ‘No to floating prisons’ has been a slogan broadcast by many protesters, highlighting its inhumane living conditions. As a town, Portland has also been unsupported by the Government, left without the resources or infrastructure required to be able to support an additional 500 people into their small community. Many local protesters have rightly directed their opposition towards the Government’s complete destruction of a functioning asylum system and their consistent failure to create solutions that work for anyone. The majority of these ‘solutions’ have been unsafe for asylum seekers, expensive for taxpayers and impractical for communities.

Alarmingly, far-right actors have been quick to jump on the issue, stirring up hatred towards asylum seekers and attempting to boost their own profiles. HOPE not hate recorded a 102% rise in far-right anti-migrant activity from 2021 to 2022, and this activity has continued this year. The far right increasingly mobilises around asylum accommodation, exploiting local concerns to recruit supporters. Portland has attracted the likes of Stan Robinson of Voice of Wales, James Harvey of Students against Tyranny, and the fascist group Patriotic Alternative. Incitements to violence against asylum seekers and regurgitation of anti-migrant tropes weaponised by the far right about criminality, safety, the ‘Great Replacement Theory’ and resource scarcity have become increasingly prevalent in community forums and overshadowed much of the conversation. Only a few days ago, threatening leaflets were distributed to local councillors and businesses.

The far right have been able to infiltrate local groups due to their extreme views increasingly finding a home in the political mainstream. Our report Stoking the Flames breaks down the links between the inflammatory language used by the Government, which fuels hostility to migrants, and drives far-right anti-migrant activity online. This is giving a green light to the far right to ramp up their anti-migrant hate. With politicians like Lee Anderson MP saying migrants should “f*** off back to France”, we’re seeing Rishi Sunak allow extremely divisive language to come straight from his MPs, often echoing the same language of the far right. The Home Office is responsible for mitigating the threat of the far right, but until the Conservative Party drop this line of inflammatory language they will continue to leave the door unlocked for them to seep into the mainstream.

Fuelled by this demonisation of asylum seekers in the political mainstream, we have seen time and time again the impacts of inappropriate asylum accommodation arrangements on community relations and, crucially, the safety of the asylum seekers housed within them. Yet the Home Office continues to push ahead with these unworkable solutions.

The Home Office has a duty of care to asylum seekers and a responsibility to mitigate the far-right threat, both of which they are neglecting. Whilst trapped in unsafe conditions that makes them targets for hate, safeguarding asylum seekers against the far right must be a priority. But this is only a temporary solution. A long term plan for community-based accommodation is long overdue, so that communities feel supported in welcoming asylum seekers, and are resilient to the far-right threat.


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