The Fire Brigades Union has today written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman to raise concerns over fire safety in asylum seeker accommodation, including the Bibby Stockholm. The barge is currently moored in Portland, Dorset and is earmarked for asylum seeker accommodation.
Firefighters would be called upon to respond to any fires aboard the Bibby Stockholm. The union is concerned about a potential lack of ingress and exit points; narrow corridors and doorways; and increased occupancy. The barge was originally built to house 222 people but is now expected to house more than 500.
The FBU has already criticised the government’s plans to exempt asylum seeker accommodation from requirements for an HMO license. The HMO licencing process gives Local Authorities a duty to check that adequate safety measures and equipment is in place.
Ben Selby, Fire Brigades Union assistant general secretary, said:
“The Fire Brigades Union represents the overwhelming majority of firefighters and emergency control staff across the UK, and it they who will be forced to deal with the consequences of any fire on board the Bibby Stockholm.
As firefighters, we are driven by the need to prevent loss of life and protect public safety. Everyone has the right to live in safe and decent housing, no matter where they are from.
The government has already scrapped vital fire safety measures for asylum seeker accommodation. Now, it wants to put more than 500 people onto an off-shore barge designed to hold around 200.
This is a cruel and reckless approach to the welfare of asylum seekers, and puts the safety of firefighters at risk.
For more than a decade we have suffered from falling wages, declining living standards and public services cut to the bone. Attacking asylum seekers will not build a single house, train a single nurse or pay anyone a decent wage – it is a technique for dividing working people against each other.”
The letter to the Home Secretary can be viewed in full below.
The Rt Hon Suella Braverman – Secretary of State for the Home Department
House of Commons
2 August 2023
Re: Fire Safety at Accommodation for Asylum Seekers and Other Migrants
Dear Home Secretary,
I am writing on behalf of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to seek an urgent meeting with you regarding fire safety matters at accommodation centres for asylum seekers and other migrants, including the Bibby Stockholm vessel.
The FBU represents the vast majority of firefighters and emergency control staff across the UK, including fire safety inspectors. Our members are the professionals on all aspects of fire safety. Firefighters and emergency control staff are expected to intervene in the event of a fire or other incident at such accommodation.
The FBU believes fire safety standards are universal and apply to everyone. These matters are both industrial and political. They matter because our members will be called upon in the event of an emergency. They also matter to us because fire and rescue is a humanitarian service, designed to protect everyone regardless of their circumstances or background. Fire does not discriminate and therefore neither should safety regulations.
Firefighting operations on vessels such as the Bibby Stockholm provide significant challenges and require specialist training and safe systems of work. The diminished safety provisions only exacerbate our operational concerns.
The FBU has expressed concerns about plans to exempt accommodation provided by the Home Office for asylum seekers from needing an HMO license. We are concerned about the risks on a large floating structure used to accommodate asylum seekers in long-term housing and would expect the risk assessment to recommend substantial prevention and control measures to tackle overcrowding, access to fire exits and other safety matters on the vessel.
The FBU seeks an urgent meeting with you and your officials to discuss these matters. We have substantial expertise, including from earlier disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire and the subsequent public inquiry. We are concerned above all to prevent another tragedy and to guarantee public safety.
Assistant General Secretary