To End Hotel Housing for Migrants, UK Revisits Barge Accommodations

berthing barge
U.S. Navy file image

Published Mar 31, 2023 2:54 AM by The Maritime Executive

The government of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reported to be in talks to charter an accommodations barge for migrant housing, part of a high-profile plan to downgrade accommodations for illegal immigrants. The UK currently spends about $7.5 million per day on hotel rooms for migrants awaiting asylum hearings, and Justice Minister Dominic Raab explained that the government's objective is to find less-attractive berthing. 

"Being housed in a hotel with all the amenities that that gives is not appropriate for people coming here illegally. . . . We must end, if you like, this perverse incentive through the hotels and in a broader sense the hospitality that this country gives [to migrants]," Raab said in an interview on Sky News on Wednesday. "We'll look at the full range of cheaper, lower cost options. We'll look at barges, it's been done elsewhere in Europe, it's been done in Scotland, we'll look at ex-military barracks."

The previous administration of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson considered cruise, ferry or barge accommodations for migrants in 2022, but set the aside when officials warned that it could be costlier than hotels. In addition to charter costs, port fees and security could impose additional expenses, according to Bloomberg. Advisers also told then-Home Secretary Priti Patel that barge accommodation could be illegal under UK law. 

Cost aside, the administration's objective is to make UK migrant housing less desirable. "We must fundamentally alter our posture toward those who seek to enter our country illegally," immigration minister Robert Jenrick said. "We cannot risk becoming a magnet for the millions of people who are displaced and seeking better economic prospects."

The use of vessels for migrant housing has been done before in the UK, and has been used widely in the EU. The Scottish government chartered two cruise ships last year to provide temporary shelter to Ukrainian refugees. The charter for one has wound down, but the second remains in service near Edinburgh.