UK Government accused of trying to house refugees on barge in Glasgow
Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council, claimed the UK Government had asked to house an asylum barge in Glasgow, something she and her colleagues had refused.
It came as the first group of migrants arrived on board the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland Port, Dorset, with more people expected to embark later on Monday.
Announcing the request on social media, she wrote: "The UK government wants Glasgow City Council to give consent to an asylum barge being sited in the city. We will not give it.
"Glasgow’s communities are proud to be beacons of support and integration for asylum seekers & refugees. This is the polar opposite of that.”
Her claim was then retweeted by the First Minister Humza Yousaf less than an hour after it was posted.
It follows Home Office plans to use Leith’s refugee ship to house asylum seekers being blocked after Forth Ports said they would not accommodate such a facility.
Ukrainians had been living aboard the MS Victoria in Leith docks after fleeing the conflict in their homeland, and were then moved into accommodation elsewhere.
Speaking at the time, City Council leader Cammy Day said he had been “extremely surprised” when the council was contacted by the Home Office, and the MS Victoria should not be turned into a “floating prison” for asylum seekers.
Replying on Twitter, Glasgow City Council was praised by Sabir Zazai, the CEO of the Scottish Refugee Council. They said: “We must never support a plan which may potentially lead to death of human beings.
“Whoever is supporting such a plan must look deep inside their soul and accept that they are taking part in this death trap.”
It follows the SNP accusing Labour of supporting using barges to house asylum seekers, despite members of Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet promising to stop migrant crossings instead.
Stuart McDonald MP, the SNP’s Justice and Immigration spokesperson claimed there was no difference with the Tories after the Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock admitted the scheme would not be scrapped immediately under a Labour Government.He said: “Labour has, once again, demonstrated how indistinguishable they are from the Tories by supporting their abhorrent asylum policy.
“Instead of treating those fleeing war-torn countries or places where they face persecution as criminals, the Tories and pro-Brexit Labour should be treating these individuals as victims – which is exactly what they are.
“This stance from both the Tories and pro-Brexit Labour underlines that independence is the only way Scotland can build a fair and humane asylum system.
“At the next election, only the SNP are offering voters a real alternative with independence – which would put dignity and fairness at the heart of our new, independent country.”
However, Monday also saw the Shadow Trade Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds deny that Labour would also house migrants on barges, explaining Mr Kinnock had been referring to the situation they’d inherit upon taking office.
He said: “No, Stephen Kinnock is talking about the situation we’ll inherit over which we have no control. So if we are privileged enough to come into government next year, we'll inherit the asylum accommodation position that the Conservatives would have put us in over the next 12 months.
“But we will be moving back to a situation, as I say, where we will be using the long standing asylum accommodation. It's been used for many, many years before the Conservatives got themselves into a mess where they had to use this barge and hotels.
“It's that action that we need. And as I say it isn't just about the people in the system. It's about the cost of this whole system to the British taxpayer, it is acting in nobody's interest at the moment, which is why ministers need to act in a far better way than they have been over recent years.”
Mr Thomas-Symonds also claimed Labour would divert funds for housing migrants in foreign countries into policing to prevent people crossing the Channel.
He said: "Firstly, by using the £140 million the Government's currently spent on the Rwanda plan, which has sent more Home Secretaries to Rwanda than people, to actually have a cross border policing unit to try and bust the model of the people smuggling gangs, so that fewer people end up in the English Channel on that dangerous crossing in the first place.
“Secondly, deal with the actual backlog where there are, for example, agreements in place with safe countries like Albania, then we should be fast tracking those people through the system.
“And third, we need to get more return agreements in place because when people are found to have no right to be here, the Government just doesn't have the returns agreements in place to be able to return those people to safe countries.
“So, what we need to see is that driving down of the asylum backlog, it is so unfair on the people in it and it's unfair on the British taxpayer as well.”
Monday morning saw the first migrants moved on to the Bibby Stockholm barge, with more expected later in the week.
Pictures appeared to show two men being escorted on to the barge by staff in high-vis jackets, while a coach was also seen arriving at the port.
However, according to refugee charity Care4Calais, around 20 asylum seekers did not board the barge because their transfers were “cancelled” by lawyers.
It comes after Home Office minister Sarah Dines said the barge would be in use “imminently”, despite a series of delays.
She also confirmed “all possibilities” for tackling the migrant crisis are being examined, following reports that the Government is considering reviving plans to fly people who arrive by unauthorised means 4,000 miles to Ascension Island.
The Home Office and Scottish Government have been approached for comment.
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