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‘Weeks' before migrants back on board Bibby barge – minister

The immigration minister has suggested it could be weeks before migrants are moved back on board the Bibby Stockholm barge (Ben Birchall/PA)
Flora Thompson and David Lynch, PA

The immigration minister has suggested it could be weeks before migrants are moved back on board the Bibby Stockholm barge.

Robert Jenrick told MPs asylum seekers would be moved back onto the barge in Dorset “as soon as possible”, providing safety checks showed no “cause for concern” and he expects this to take place “within weeks”.

The first asylum seekers arrived on the barge last month but were moved off again just days later after tests revealed Legionella – the bacteria which can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease – was present.

Since then, ministers and officials have been unable to say when migrants would be back on board.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman insisted the giant vessel is safe amid threats of legal action from firefighters.

Conservative MP Richard Drax, whose South Dorset constituency is home to the barge, asked in the Commons on Tuesday “when and if” migrants would return.

To which Mr Jenrick replied: “It was very unfortunate that migrants had to be moved off the barge over the summer. We deeply regret that. We did take a very precautionary approach.

“Tests have subsequently been carried out and the definitive answers to those tests will be received very shortly.

“Assuming that they show no signs of Legionella or indeed any other bacteria or cause of concern, then we will move people back onto the boat as soon as possible, I think we can expect that within weeks.”

It comes as figures showed fresh cases of diphtheria among asylum seekers in England have been reported for the first time since January.

According to UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data, three cases were reported in August, taking the total number of cases for 2022 and 2023 to 77.

The total previously stood at 74 after one case was reported in January. No further cases were recorded between February and July, the figures show.

The Home Office refused to confirm if any of the latest cases were found among people on board the Bibby Stockholm or those staying at former RAF airbase Wethersfield Airfield in Essex, which opened to migrants for the first time in July, when asked by the PA news agency.

Fifty five of the cases have been recorded in the South East, seven in London, and there were fewer than five in each of the following areas: East of England, West Midlands, South West, North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, the latest report said. But no breakdown by county is provided.

Asylum seekers with symptoms of the highly-contagious disease were put into isolation last year amid an increase in the number of infections among people arriving in the UK.

But ministers and health officials insisted the risk of the public getting diphtheria is very low and infections are rare.

At the time Ms Braverman faced criticism about overcrowding and outbreaks of disease at Manston amid concerns a man held there may have died from a diphtheria infection.