UK forced to remove asylum seekers from barge after 'serious' bacteria discovered onboard

The British government has been forced to take a group of asylum seekers off a large barge just days after they were put on it due to Legionella bacteria being discovered in the water supply.

The nation began moving asylum seekers onto the Bibby Stockholm barge, which departed Dorset on the south coast, earlier this week, according to Reuters. The move was meant to be a high-profile strategy to dissuade people from entering the country on small boats.

There was much controversy surrounding the idea before it got off the ground. Ministers within the British government wished to reduce the amount of money being spent on keeping asylum seekers in hotel rooms, while human rights activists suggested that the barge was an inhumane solution.

A spokesperson at the Home Office said that the “environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm have shown levels of Legionella bacteria which require further investigation.”

“As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken.”

The massive barge is said to house up to 500 people, with over 200 bedrooms available. There were more people expected to be moved into the barge over the course of the coming weeks. The bacteria that was discovered in the water supply can cause Legionnaires’ disease, an infection in the lungs. The British health service has described the illness as uncommon, but “very serious.”

However, the government said that no one onboard had contracted the serious illness, and that it was working with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) as well as following its protocols.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government had reportedly spent the previous week expressing its intent to reduce the number of asylum seekers, hoping to win over the support of the population. The Conservative Party is currently trailing in opinion polls, per the report.

Sunak has made illegal immigration one of his top five priorities, with the hope that a decrease in arrivals could bolster his party’s favorability before the next national election. 

The Labour Party said on Friday: “The Conservatives have slogans and gimmicks, but no real solutions.”

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