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Some 500 asylum-seekers in the U.K. will be housed on a barge docked off the south coast of England, the British government said Wednesday of its latest measure aimed at discouraging migrants from crossing the English Channel in small unseaworthy boats.
The housing plan is part of a broader effort by the Conservative government to curb migration and cut hotel bills that cost taxpayers 2.3 billion-pounds ($2.9 billion) a year amid a backlog of hundreds of thousands of asylum cases.
It could take months before the barge, currently in Italy, is anchored at Portland, off the Dorset coast. The government’s plan could face legal challenges along with other forms of opposition.
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Human rights groups said the barge would be a cruel place to house vulnerable people fleeing war and the idea should be scrapped along with a plan to move thousands of migrants to barracks at unused military bases.
“Confining hundreds of people in isolation on a barge is just more of the political theater that the government has created to obscure its gross mismanagement of the asylum system,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrants director for Amnesty International UK.
Conservative British Prime Minister Rishi Sunaks government has announced the relocation of 500 migrants to a barge docked off the English coast. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
The Tory-run Dorset Council and the area’s Conservative representative in Parliament, Richard Drax, were considering legal action to prevent the barge from being docked near the seaside resort of Weymouth.
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said using the barge for housing was a fair way to deal with Channel crossings and would save money.
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“We are spending, as a country, 6 million-pounds ($7.5 million) a day housing illegal asylum-seekers in hotels. That can’t be right,” Sunak said.
More than 50,000 asylum-seekers are staying in temporary accommodations while awaiting a decision on their applications, a process that can months.
Sunak’s government is determined to crack down on the arrivals and is pushing a controversial migration bill that would bar asylum claims by anyone who reaches the U.K. by unauthorized means and deport migrants back home or to a third country.
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More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain by boat from northern France in 2022, up from 28,000 in 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.