LONDON, Aug 11 (Reuters) – Britain has removed migrants from a residential barge less than a week after they moved in after Legionella bacteria was found in the water supply, the government said on Friday.
Britain had begun moving some migrants on to the large Bibby Stockholm barge on its southern coast at the beginning of the week as part of its high-profile strategy to deter asylum seekers from arriving in the country.
The policy had divided opinion, with ministers saying they wanted to offer basic and not luxurious accommodation to help save costs, while human rights campaigners said the offer was inhumane.
“Environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm (barge) have shown levels of legionella bacteria which require further investigation,” a spokesperson at the Home Office, or interior ministry, said.
“As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken.”
The large, grey three-story barge can house around 500 people in over 200 bedrooms, and more people had been expected to move in over the coming weeks.
The bacteria discovered in the water supply of the barge can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a lung infection that the British health service describes as uncommon but “very serious”.
The government said no individuals on board had presented with symptoms of the disease, and that it was working closely with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and following its advice in line with public health processes.
The news comes at the end of a week when the government had been making announcements on how it was trying to reduce the number of asylum seekers in an attempt to win support from voters before a general election expected next year.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has made cracking down on illegal migration a major priority, is also trying to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, although that plan has run into legal difficulties.
Reporting by Muvija M and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Kate Holton
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