Asylum seekers are being removed from the Bibby Stockholm barge due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.
The Home Office has said it is removing all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel, docked in Portland Port in Dorset, this week as a “precautionary measure”.
It said that no migrants have fallen sick or developed Legionnaires’ disease, which is a serious type of pneumonia, and that they are all being provided with “appropriate advice and support”.
The disembarkment comes only four days after the first 15 asylum seekers boarded the barge.
Around 50 people had been expected to move on to the giant vessel but around 20 were granted a last-minute reprieve after a series of legal challenges.
According to Sky News, immigration minister Robert Jenrick is understood to be chairing meetings about the situation.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The health and welfare of individuals on the vessel is our utmost priority.
“Environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm have shown levels of Legionella bacteria which require further investigation.
“Following these results, the Home Office has been working closely with UKHSA and following its advice in line with long-established public health processes, and ensuring all protocol from Dorset Council’s environmental health team and Dorset NHS is adhered to.
“As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken.
“No individuals on board have presented with symptoms of Legionnaires’, and asylum seekers are being provided with appropriate advice and support.
“The samples taken relate only to the water system on the vessel itself and therefore carry no direct risk indication for the wider community of Portland nor do they relate to fresh water entering the vessel. Legionnaires’ disease does not spread from person to person.”
With a capacity of more than 500, the Government hopes that use of Bibby Stockholm, together with former military bases, will help reduce the £6 million a day it is spending on hotel bills for asylum seekers waiting for claims to be processed.
Steve Smith, chief executive of charity Care4Calais, said: “We have always known our concerns over the health and safety of the barge are justified, and this latest mismanagement proves our point.
“The Bibby Stockholm is a visual illustration of this Government’s hostile environment against refugees, but it has also fast become a symbol for the shambolic incompetence which has broken Britain’s asylum system.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Across the country, most people want strong border security and a properly managed and controlled asylum system so the UK does its bit alongside other countries to help those who have fled persecution and conflict, while those who have no right to be here are swiftly returned.
“Under this Government, we have neither as gangs are undermining our border security and the asylum system is in chaos.”
Kolbassia Haoussou, director of survivor empowerment at Freedom from Torture, also commented on the situation, saying: “The presence of life-threatening bacteria onboard the Bibby Stockholm is just another shocking revelation that we’ve seen unfold over the past few weeks. This Government’s punitive policies and deliberate neglect of the asylum system is not just cruel, it’s dangerous.”