At least 135 asylum seekers are now living onboard the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset, according to local campaigners.
Stand Up To Racism Dorset and the Portland Global Friendship Group held a welcome meeting at the port gates on Sunday for new arrivals.
At the same time, the No To The Barge group also held a protest, concerned over the impact on the local area.
Image: No To The Barge protesters say the Bibby Stockholm is “socially divisive” Co-ordinator of the Portland Global Friendship Group, Heather, told Sky News the number of people being placed on the barge is growing.
“The number I know is 135, but I do know that more arrived on Friday so that number will be higher,” said Heather, who did not want to give her full name.
“There’s a large amount of people on-board and they’re adjusting to life. Some of them have found it really difficult.”
In October, some migrants returned to the Bibby Stockholm after being evacuated due to an outbreak of legionella bacteria.
Heather said asylum seekers are highlighting problems with living on-board, with claims that televisions in each bedroom have been disconnected.
“On the barge, there are no activities – the TVs are disconnected. The Home Office said it’s to encourage the guys to socialise. They don’t have meaningful activities on the barge.”
A Home Office spokesperson said the barge’s capacity is 500, but the number of people on board may vary “due to a number of factors, including individuals exiting the asylum system once a decision has been made”.
They added: “The Bibby Stockholm is part of the government’s pledge to reduce the use of expensive hotels and bring forward alternative accommodation options which provide a more cost-effective, sustainable and manageable system for the UK taxpayer and local communities.”
The Home Office added that asylum seekers have access to communal areas, including a TV lounge.
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PM defends Bibby Stockholm The volunteer group is now running events for asylum seekers five days a week.
Heather said: “We have conversation club, we took the guys fishing, we’ve got sports groups – all different activities put on by volunteers. We now have over 70 guys engaging with us and we get more each week as more arrive.”
A number of the asylum seekers have begun volunteering themselves, she said.
“Many of them are really keen to meet the community and get involved in things. We’ve got guys that go down to help the homeless, they give hot meals out to the homeless.
“Some are helping in charity shops and organisations around the island.
“There’s one guy who’s doing websites for community groups on the island. So they are able to use their skill set to actually support our community and make it better,” said Heather.
In a separate protest, around a dozen campaigners from the No To The Barge group marched.
In a statement, the group said: “The ordinary people on the beautiful island of Portland, Dorset are fed up, frustrated and angry about the socially divisive, unsupported mooring of the Bibby Barge.”