Refugees on board the Bibby Stockholm barge have told campaign group One Life To Live that access to food is heavily restricted. Additionally, portions are child-sized and canteen queues take up to an hour – with those at the end likely to be disappointed.
A significant amount of food is wasted because the quality is poor. It can also be unhygienic; for example, dirty salad leaves and hair regularly found in the food. And it is often culturally inappropriate. According to one individual, a group of men have been on hunger strike.
This picture is particularly disturbing because the Home Office pays the company which runs the barge, Corporate Travel Management, £44,369 by for each asylum seeker on board, which includes the provision of food (figures based on a maximum eventual cohort of 506 people). A year’s place at Eton would not cost much more.
No food is available for almost half of every 24-hour period
The asylum-seekers cannot get anything to eat between the canteen closing at 8pm and when it reopens for breakfast at 7am the following day – that’s 11 hours. If an individual returns to the barge after 8pm, which can happen and may be unavoidable, they will miss their evening meal and will have no food for 17 hours.
Furthermore, they have been told that packed lunches will not be provided if anyone will be away from the barge during the day. They cannot afford to buy their own meals when off the barge, because the asylum-seekers’ allowance is just £1.37 per day to cover all living expenses other than accommodation and on-board food.
So if someone is off the barge over lunchtime, which is quite feasible, they will have no food between breakfast ending at 9am one day and reopening at 7am the next – which means no food for 22 hours.
Promises made – and not kept
On 21 July 2023, before the first asylum-seekers arrived on the barge, the Home Office offered tours of the Bibby Stockholm for journalists. ITV News, for example, reported several commitments about catering arrangements. These do not correspond to what the asylum-seekers are experiencing:
Home Office statement:
Outside normal meal times, soup and bread will be available 24/7.
Reality according to an asylum-seeker on board on 16 December:
After 8pm the door is closed for dinner time, after that they clean for one hour. It’s open [again] at 10pm with just hot drinks. [So] when I get hungry… at night I must sleep hungry, for we are indeed imprisoned. I don’t even have access to any supermarket to get food for myself.
Asylum-seekers don’t have access to supermarkets because they are not permitted to leave the barge except by the buses provided, which only make one stop on Portland and two in Weymouth, and do not operate 24/7. Plus, they cannot afford to buy food.
Home Office statement:
Each meal will be served over a two-hour window to prevent overcrowding.
Reality according to a local supporter in November 2023:
The men queue for up to an hour for food, and apparently there isn’t much left for those at the end of the queue.
That was when there were 200 people on board; there are now around 350, rising to 506. According to an asylum-seeker on board in November:
The capacity of the dining hall is 120 people. There are 20 tables and 6 chairs for each table.
Furthermore, one asylum-seeker reported that portion sizes were inadequate:
The amount of food they give us is suitable for a 10-year-old child… they are stingy in the amount of food.
Home Office statement:
The menu is culturally sensitive.
Reality according to various asylum-seekers, as told to One Life To Live:
- “Food is of poor quality and more than 70 per cent of the people waste their food. They do not eat because no one likes the food”.
- “Some days the food is so awful that we can’t eat [and] sleep hungry at night”.
- “We don’t have anywhere to prepare food for ourselves and there is no snack at all”.
- “I haven’t had any necessary [sic] food for two weeks”.
- “Several times I found hair in the food”.
- “quality of [the food’s] cleanliness is very low” – with a photo of a salad leaf with dirt on it.
- “The poor quality of the food… this place feels like a prison”.
‘Grandiose statements’ versus the reality of life on the Bibby Stockholm
In February 2023, Corporate Travel Management (CTM) was awarded a £1.6 billion contract over two years to run an unspecified number of vessels and hotels.
Following his appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee on 29 November, permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft told Dame Diana Johnson, the committee’s chair, via a letter dated 12 December that the value of the vessel accommodation services portion of the contract is £22,450,772.
There is only one vessel – the Bibby Stockholm – and One Life To Live has been unable to identify any hotels operated by CTM.
In that session before the committee on 29 November, Simon Ridley (interim second permanent secretary, Home Office) was asked whether it was an appropriate use of public-sector funding for companies housing asylum-seekers to be making ‘so much profit’.
Nicola David of One Life To Live said:
It’s extremely disappointing that all kinds of grandiose statements were made to the media during the press tour in July. The reality for the asylum-seekers is very different; people are reporting real hunger. Yet taxpayers are forking out over £22 million for board and lodging for just a few hundred men.
Where is the money going?
The Home Office and its subcontractors – CTM and Landry & Kling – have serious questions to answer. Not just about the treatment of the asylum-seekers in their care, but also the abuse of the public purse.
Featured image via Wikimedia