The now-infamous Bibby Stockholm barge is currently moored in Falmouth, Cornwall. The Tory government plans on using it to detain hundreds of refugees. However, since it arrived on the south west coast, activists have made it clear the barge is not welcome in Cornwall – and they’ve continued to protest its presence despite cops “harassing” them.
Meanwhile, 40 organisations – including the Refugee Council – have signed an open letter to the Bibby Stockholm’s owner. It highlights the company’s links to the slave trade – and also calls out its current association with “quasi-detention”.
Cornwall: currently home to the Bibby Stockholm
As the Canary previously reported, the Home Office is planning to forcibly detain around 500 male refugees on the Bibby Stockholm. This is despite Dutch authorities’ alleged human rights abuses aboard the vessel when its government used it to detain refugees in the 2000s. The UK government’s plans have also prompted outrage from groups like Amnesty International.
However, while a company refits the Bibby Stockholm in Cornwall, local people and campaign groups have not let its presence go by quietly. They have repeatedly protested it being there, and what it represents. This included a week of resistance, and ‘redecorating’ the premises of A&P, the company refitting the barge:
Massive love to the legends who splattered A&p building last night with red paint. According to a statement received by Cornwall Resists, the building was "redecorated with red paint to symbolise the racist border violence that's led to the death of thousands of people.” 🖤✊🧵 pic.twitter.com/fstRVOyB5W
— Cornwall Resists (@CornwallResists) June 14, 2023
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Cornwall Resists is a network of grassroots anti-fascist groups in the county. As the Canary has documented, it has been prominent in resisting both the far-right and the state’s racist abuse of refugees in Cornwall. The group has also been at the forefront of the resistance to the Bibby Stockholm. So, on 30 June, it and other campaigners once again made some noise.
Direct action, and cops siding with corporations
The group said in a press release:
Cornwall Resists delivered a loud and clear message to A&P workers currently refitting the Bibby Stockholm refugee prison ship: lay down your tools! The noise demo was part of a protest that marched through Falmouth making it clear that Cornwall will not be complicit in border violence.
The protest was originally called as an emergency demo as the Bibby was listed as leaving on shipping websites. However, campaigners decided to continue with their plans to protest once it was clear this was not happening, and to take their message of resistance straight to A&P.
As Cornwall Live reported, activists marched through Falmouth before going to A&P’s premises. However, cops were on hand to “protect” the company:
On Friday we told A&P loudly and clearly what we think of them refitting the Bibby Stockholm refugee prison ship, and we had a message for the workers – “lay down your tools!”.
The police made it clear what their role is: to protect A&P. 🧵 pic.twitter.com/wTXdekho0o
— Cornwall Resists (@CornwallResists) July 2, 2023
Cornwall Resists said in a press release:
Campaigners have also accused the police of harassment after several incidents that included contacting one campaigner on their personal number and turning up to a public meeting. Despite police claims that they want to facilitate protest, their actions at the protest on Friday made it clear that they are only interested in protecting A&P.
The police were not present during the protests in town, but only attended at A&P, and only cared about whether protesters crossed an invisible line on the road where it becomes A&P property.
When Pendennis workers, who were not connected to A&P, came to speak to protesters to ask them to let them leave, the police attempted to physically stop campaigners from talking to them. Despite this aggression, Cornwall Resists were able to talk to the workers, and immediately moved to allow them to leave.
Of course, cops in Cornwall siding with the racist state and its proponents like A&P is nothing new. They had already targeted Cornwall Resists’ meeting about its Bibby Stockholm action:
— Cornwall Resists (@CornwallResists) June 28, 2023
Moreover, when far-right Patriotic Alternative organised a protest against refugees staying in a Newquay hotel, cops sided with them while targeting anti-fascists who’d come out to oppose the demo. This is symptomatic of the police’s wider role in enforcing the UK’s racist state.
Taking a stand in Falmouth and beyond
The Bibby Stockholm remains moored in Falmouth. Campaigners are unclear when it will be leaving for its final destination in Dorset. A spokesperson for Cornwall Resists said:
The resistance to the Bibby Stockholm and refugee prison ships is growing. Most people do not agree with this government’s hostile environment policy – they want to see refugees and asylum seekers treated with empathy and respect, not locked up on boats or in camps.
Those seeking sanctuary have made incredibly traumatic journeys to get here, often fleeing from wars the UK has perpetrated or from devastation caused by bombs manufactured by UK companies. Many of those who’ll be imprisoned on the Bibby will already have suffered immense sea-related trauma, and it is utterly obscene and heartbreaking to think they’ll then face being imprisoned on a boat.
Meanwhile, 40 organisations including the Refugee Council have published their open letter to Bibby Marine, the barge’s owner. You can read it in full here. It said:
We… believe that your company’s alleged historical association with the slave trade makes it all the more important that you reflect deeply on whether a contract which leads to the effective detention of people fleeing war and persecution is where your company wishes to position itself in 2023.
Links between your parent company Bibby Line Group (BLG) and the slave trade have repeatedly been made. If true, we appeal to you to consider what actions you might take in recompense.
Cornwall’s and the broader resistance to the Bibby Stockholm cannot be viewed in isolation. It may seem bizarre that an inanimate floating vessel can be the subject of such anger. However – like slave trader statues, banks, or parliament itself – it is what the Bibby Stockholm represents that makes it a target.
Cornwall Resists’ actions serve to highlight the colonialist, racist, and classist government policies that allow it to be in Falmouth in the first place.
Featured image via Cornwall ResistsSupport us and go ad-free
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