Bibby Stockholm staff joked about ‘one less mouth to feed’ after death – claim

Bibby Stockholm staff joked there was “one less Muslim mouth to feed” after an asylum seeker on board died, a former cleaner on the barge has claimed.

The incident is said to have happened shortly after Leonard Farruku, an Albanian asylum seeker, died while living on board the barge in December.

The 27-year-old is thought to have taken his own life.

Alongside the allegation, multiple former residents told an inquiry conditions on the barge were like being “in prison.”

One said it made them feel like a “zoo animal,” while another claimed security staff had told them to “keep your mouth shut.”

The Bibby Stockholm, moored off the coast of Portland in Dorset, is the only accommodation barge for migrants commissioned so far by ministers and has faced a series of setbacks since its arrival.

People board the Bibby Stockholm in October 2023 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The discovery of dangerous bacteria led to its evacuation last summer just days after the arrival of the first asylum seekers, and it remained vacant for two months.

The Bibby Stockholm: A People’s Inquiry spoke to a number of former residents for first-hand accounts of what life was like on the vessel.

The report, produced by Care4Calais, Stand Up To Racism and the Portland Global Friendship Group, called for the immediate closure of the barge and no renewal of its contract, as well as investment in asylum claim decision-makers.

Levana, who worked as a cleaner on the barge from its opening until late December, spoke at a meeting in Parliament launching the report.

The ex-employee, who did not wish to give her surname, said she heard other staff “talking about Leonard and laughing and joking ‘Oh that is one less Muslim mouth to feed’.”

“It was just disgusting. “That was the overall vibe from a lot of the workers there.”

She added: “And I was starting to think: why put these people who have these views and prejudice in charge of looking after hundreds of men who have come here for safe haven?”

Asked by the PA news agency if she had raised the incident, which happened “within a week” of Mr Farruku’s death, she said she did not feel able to do so.

“Maybe I should have spoken out, but the position I was in at that time it was quite difficult to speak to them about anything and I know it was something they would have just dismissed,” she said.

In testimony for the report, she said she was given a warning by a manager on December 12 last year after standing with two of the barge’s residents on their break.

“I was told that I was being given a verbal warning because I should not be friendly with the service users in this way,” she said.

“After this I worked one more booked shift and then was offered no further work, even though other staff were being offered shifts.”

Levana said she had found the residents to be respectful, helpful and polite, but senior staff had made comments that were “often hostile, and possibly racist.”

Rival protesters in Portland in Dorset on July 18, 2023 after the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge arrived (Ben Birchall/PA)

The first initials of refugees who gave evidence for the report were used instead of their names, to protect their identity.

A, a queer refugee who moved from the barge only after charities lodged safeguarding concerns, said the conditions left them feeling paranoid and they “felt like I was going insane as soon as I got there.”

A said there was no privacy anywhere on vessel, adding: “On the barge I sometimes just felt like a zoo animal.”

Another former resident, S, told the inquiry: “When leaving and entering we have to be scanned, like airport security. Many people don’t go outside because of this.

“They stayed inside and tried to do something in the ‘common rooms’. But there is not enough space for people.

“One day I was standing in the restaurant and I said the food was not good. The security staff said ‘Keep your mouth shut and sit down’.”

The Home Office shelved plans to procure more bars to hold asylum seekers in January.

The Bibby Stockholm was accommodating just under half the number of migrants the Home Office expected would be the case at the end of that month.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not recognize the claims made in this report.

“The Bibby Stockholm is part of the government’s plan to reduce the use of expensive hotels and bring forward alternative accommodation options which are more cost effective, sustainable and manageable for the taxpayer and local communities.

“There are rigorous safeguarding processes in place on the barge. Residents have access to health and social care services, including mental health support.

“If concerns are raised about any aspect of the service delivered, we work with the provider to ensure these are swiftly addressed, and Migrant Help 24/7 is also available every day of the year.”

 
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