“I wanted to let asylum seekers know they are welcome”

On the English south coast, 500 asylum seekers will live on board a former cruise ship, the Bibby Stockholm. There is a lot to do with it, both nationally and locally. “It is outrageous that they have to wait for their asylum procedure in some kind of apartment building on the water.”

Patrick van Eisendoorn

As soon as he heard the news on Monday that the first asylum seekers were on their way to his hometown of Portland, a port on the English south coast, Tony Walter cut out a piece of cardboard. And he wrote on it in big letters: Welcome! I wanted asylum seekers Let them know they are welcome,” says the retired sociology professor. “It is reprehensible that they have to wait for their asylum procedure in some kind of apartment building on the water.”

The floating apartment is the Bibby Stockholm, a ship that once housed rejected asylum seekers in Rotterdam, and before that it housed employees of an oil rig near the Shetland Islands. Now it is being used by the British government, with the support of the Labor opposition, as another emergency measure in a reception crisis. Tens of thousands of Asians and Africans who arrived in England by boat are now temporarily staying in hotels. With five hundred places to stay for all-male asylum seekers, Bibby Stockholm has to take the pressure off.

Residents will have to share rooms with bunk beds. With this, the Conservative government wants to reduce the asylum policy. According to the responsible Secretary of State, reception in hotels, sometimes with four stars, has an attractive effect. Refugee organization Care4Calais described the reception on the boats as “extremely harsh”.

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Closed pubs

It was not easy to find a place to dock. Fearing protests, no coastal town would welcome the asylum ship, but Portland decided to raise the 3 million euros offered by the government. The peninsula was a busy naval base until the 1990s, as evidenced by covered bars like The Jolly Sailor. It is now a commercial port where cruise ships dock, frigates are serviced and dolphins swim.

And so Pepe arrived in Portland Bay three weeks early. Asylum seekers arrived on Monday in blinded buses. They were welcomed by about two dozen sympathizers who brought bags with toiletries and a map of the area. They can leave them at the guarded entrance gates.

It is impossible for outsiders to approach the British Asylum boat. “There’s only one place to watch the boat,” says sociologist Walter. Standing 140 meters above the gates of a Victorian prison, the gray three-storey nave can already be seen. Those with a telephoto lens could see residents and guards walking by.

Populist asylum policy

“It’s a crunch of our own making,” Walter said during the climb. About seven years ago, the immigration service cut back, so the procedures took longer. I have acquaintances who work in the ministry and it seems it has been chaotic there for years.” Whether that is cynicism or incompetence, or some combination of the two, he wonders aloud. Nor do I rule out that the Conservative government is pursuing a populist asylum policy for electoral gain.

The government has put asylum policy at the top of the agenda. On Monday, a proposal was made to send asylum seekers to Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean. This comes weeks after judges ruled out a plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Bibby’s plan isn’t going smoothly either. Only fifty asylum seekers arrived on Monday. Twenty “Bibi refusers” successfully sued, including for fear of water. Then Conservative Party Vice-Chairman Lee Anderson said that disaffected immigrants should be “deported to France”.

The asylum boat has been the backdrop for abuses in the past, particularly in the Rotterdam era. To accommodate critics, the authorities said residents would be provided with good food, from paella to pancakes, and allowed to go out on their own or on organized excursions. There’s plenty to see in the area, from the D-Day Museum to Chesil Beach, the beach from the famous Ian McEwan novel. Buses and taxis to nearby Weymouth are free for residents.


But specifically that freedom for kimberlinsStrangers, as strangers are called here, arouse suspicion. Chris, a helpless technician who does not wish his last name to be published in the paper, has doubts about the term “refugees”. “People who get here on boats have come through safe countries,” says the 54-year-old, who traveled the world in his days in the Royal Navy. “They are driven crazy by human traffickers who promise our island is paradise on earth.”

According to neighbor Marian, who works in higher education, Portland is indeed a paradise in terms of location, but the population of more than 13,000 suffers from social problems. “You can’t see a doctor, there is hardly any public transport, there are not enough homes and there is nothing for young people to do,” she sums up. “This is not an ideal place to receive asylum seekers.” Her husband, Merv, a carpenter, nodded. “I know gentlemen in the harbour, they only think of money.”

Sympathetic Tony Walter also worries about the consequences of Portland’s asylum policy. Society has become divided on this issue. But everyone agrees on one thing: This boat shouldn’t be here.

Denton Watson

"Friend of animals everywhere. Evil twitter fan. Pop culture evangelist. Introvert."

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