Asylum seeker dies on board UK barge housing migrants

LONDON (Reuters) -An asylum seeker has died on board a barge housing migrants off the south coast of England, British police and interior minister James Cleverly said on Tuesday.

Earlier refugee charity Care4Calais said an asylum seeker had died on the Bibby Stockholm, a barge which is moored in Portland, Dorset, and which can house around 500 people.

“Tragically there has been death on the Bibby Stockholm barge,” Cleverly told parliament. “At this stage I’m uncomfortable getting into any more details, but we will of course investigate fully.”

Dorset Police said they had received a report of “a sudden death of a resident on the Bibby Stockholm” at 0622 GMT on Tuesday.

“Officers are conducting enquiries into the circumstances of the incident,” police said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cracking down on illegal migration one of his key priorities. As part of that drive, the government is trying to cut the cost of accommodating asylum seekers in hotels by using barges and former military sites.

But the policy has been controversial. Human rights campaigners compared the barge to a prison ship and said its use was in inhumane.

Care4Calais said the government must take responsibility for “this human tragedy”, saying housing of migrants in this way had led to a serious deterioration in people’s mental health.

“We have regularly been reporting suicidal intentions amongst residents and no action is taken,” Steve Smith, the charity’s chief executive, said.

“This can no longer continue. Asylum seekers are human beings, many of whom have experienced the worst traumas imaginable through war, torture and persecution. It’s time our political leaders treated them as human beings, listened to the trauma they have experienced and offered them sanctuary.”

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Michael Holden and Christina Fincher)