Fury over 500-bed migrant barge docked off the coast of Dorset: Families fear public services will be overwhelmed with the arrival of hundreds of asylum-seekers to small town with just one dentist and two GP surgeries
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Families living on the Jurassic coast where some 500 migrants will be housed on a giant barge off the shore have told of their concern over how the town will cope with the huge influx.
People living in Portland, Dorset, have accused the government of ‘dumping’ the problem of immigration on them – and say public services are already stretched to the limit without more people to look after.
Colette Finnigan, who lives in Portland, said: ‘It takes weeks to get a doctor’s appointment as it is – and suddenly there are an extra 500 people who will have to be looked after.’
The giant Bibby Stockholm barge is currently docked in Falmouth, Devon, where it is being refurbished and will arrive on the isle of Portland next month.
The Government has said it wants to house migrants on the 300ft long barge to cut down the £7m a day being spent on hotels to house migrants.
Colette Finnigan (pictured), who lives in Portland, said: ‘It takes weeks to get a doctor’s appointment as it is – and suddenly there are an extra 500 people who will have to be looked after’
The giant Bibby Stockholm barge (pictured) is currently docked in Falmouth, Devon, where it is being refurbished and will arrive on the isle of Portland next month
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The Bibby Stockholm, which has previously been used to house offshore workers, will now house asylum seekers
While residents on the linked island of Portland, at the southernmost tip of Dorset, are used to having giant cruise liners dock in the Port, it is the decision to allow so many migrants to come into their small community that has caused much concern.
Grandmother Mrs Finnigan, 54, said: ‘I don’t understand why the Government has chosen to put the barge in Portland. They have just dumped the problem on us.
‘Why not put it in the Thames close to Houses of Parliament and see how they like to have it on their doorstep?’
Many of the residents interviewed by MailOnline were reluctant to be named for fear of being accused of being racist.
One young mother said: ‘We are a very small community in Portland and there are not enough facilities for young people who live here as it is.
‘How are 500 young men from all different countries going to be able to settle in? It is madness to think they are going to be here for months.
‘The barge is just another attempt by the Government to put off the migrants from coming over, just like the Rwanda scheme that has been a disaster.
‘I am sure they are hoping migrants will stay away if they think they are going to end up on a barge.’
Another resident bitterly opposed to the scheme moaned that it already takes weeks to get an appointment with the doctor or dentists – with this scheme adding more pressure to the system.
There are only two doctor’s practices on the isle of Portland which already has a population of 13,000 people and a single dentist.
Retired publican Andrew Wilson (pictured) lives in a terraced cottage close to the entrance of the port and is worried about the extra activity that will take place outside his front door
Portland bay in Dorset where migrant floating hotel boats are proposed to be located
The barge is seen being pulled into Falmouth after arriving from Genoa in Italy
A gym inside the barge, which is owned by Liverpool based company Bibby Marine
The local community hospital has been forced to temporarily close its minor injuries department and all beds at the site were axed in 2018.
The nearest main hospital is the 350 bed Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester, about 10 miles from Portland Port.
Many residents choose to travel the short distance to Weymouth rather than wait for a local appointment at the lone dentist or one of two doctors’ surgeries.
Migrants who fall ill will most likely have be transported by taxi to Weymouth or Dorchester as the local facilities are fully booked Monday to Friday.
A member of staff at the Fortuneswell dental practice said they had ‘several thousand’ residents registered.
The staff member said: ‘Many people choose register with a practice in Weymouth. We have several thousand, both NHS and private. There is one dentist, and he is kept busy.’
Rebecca Fell, chief executive of Bournemouth-based charity International Care Network, said: ‘There’s got to be enough infrastructure in terms of GP surgeries and the hospitals being able to take on the medical needs that so many do have, so we would be really worried about the surrounding area being able to support that vast number of people.’
Portland Mayor Pete Roper said the arrival of the migrants will put pressure on local services.
He said: ‘Our health services have diminished over the years. We do have a community hospital but we’ve lost the beds in that hospital and the minor injuries unit has recently closed.’
Elaine Straw (pictured with her therapy dog Max), 74, said she is already worried about leaving her home and is wary of so many unknown people turning up at once
The barge was towed from Italy and will now undergo safety checks as well as being refitted to increase the onboard capacity as it currently only has space for 200 people
An aerial view of the barge, which is spread over three storeys and will house around 500 migrants
The barge, operated by Liverpool-based Bibby Marine features a games room
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Speaking to MailOnline, a mother of a teenage girl added: ‘I can’t believe the Government has washed its hands of these migrants and dumped the problem on us.
‘They are housing 500 people on our doorstep. But where will they go? There is nothing here for them and they will just hang around the streets. It is disgusting what the Government plans to do to our community.’
Retired publican Andrew Wilson lives in a terraced cottage close to the entrance of the port and is worried about the extra activity that will take place outside his front door.
The 70-year-old said: ‘We have cruise liners docking once or twice a week, but now there are going to be as many as 500 people a day coming past.
‘I don’t agree with the idea to put the barge here, and I’ve not met a single person who supports it.’
Elaine Straw, 74, said she is already worried about leaving her home and is wary of so many unknown people turning up at once.
Clutching her therapy dog Max, she said: ‘I live very close to the port so will be most affected. I know that the migrants have to be housed somewhere, but Portland is not a suitable place.
‘It is too small and does not have the infrastructure to support all these people.’
Business owners are also worried that publicity over the arrival of the barge will have a negative effect on tourism.
Thousands of tourists visit the island, home to the Portland Bill lighthouse and D-Day museum, each year taking a ferry from the nearby resort of Weymouth.
A single road running alongside Chesil Beach links the island with the mainland.
Dave Wagner (pictured), 55, said he was shocked local residents had not been consulted. ‘Like everyone else I just found out when it was announced the barge will be here,’ said Mr Wagner
It will now undergo safety checks as well as being refitted to increase the onboard capacity as it currently only has space for 200 people
The barge offers ‘delicious, nutritious food’ in its restaurant and Wi-Fi throughout the ship
The vessel will accommodate up to 506 people in 222 en-suite bedrooms who will be free to come and go while their asylum claims are processed
Many visitors come to Portland for bird watching and walking along the Jurassic coastline that stretches through the county of Dorset.
The island is also home to top security prison HMP Verne where paedophile Gary Glitter currently resides.
A B&B owner, who asked not to be named, said: ‘I don’t see how the Government has thought this through. We are a very small community, and the migrants will find it difficult to fit in.
‘There are already problems with lots of anti-social behaviour from bored youths This is just going to make it much worse.’
Another small hotel owner predicted tourists will stay away.
‘At the first sign of trouble they will stop coming over from the mainland. ‘I have not had any cancellations, but once the barge is here, I am fully expecting to have people call and cancel their bookings. It will be a disaster for Portland.’
Dave Wagner, 55, said he was shocked local residents had not been consulted.
‘Like everyone else I just found out when it was announced the barge will be here,’ said Mr Wagner.
‘It is just wrong that they can just go ahead without talking to local residents about what is going to happen to their community’.
Dorset Council and the local MP Richard Drax have all condemned the Government’s plans to house the migrants in Portland.
Tory MP Drax described the plan as a ‘landmine’ being put in the port.
He said: ‘You’re putting a landmine into a highly restricted port with many young men trapped in a barge many hours a day. Where are they going to go? What are they going to do? What happens if they don’t come back?
‘It was clear that the Home Office had made its decision before consulting with anyone other than the port. Diplomacy isn’t the Home Office’s strong point and a lot of goodwill has been squandered.’
An aerial view of the barge being accompanied by tug boats into Falmouth
Dorset Council said they had ‘serious concerns about the suitability of the location for this facility’ and had been given ‘limited input’.
Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick has said he will be urging the Government to increase funding for policing the vessel and its occupants.
Residents agreed the lack of consultation meant they were being seen as a ‘dumping ground’.
The nearest main town to Portland is the hugely popular tourist town of Weymouth, about eight miles away.
There are unconfirmed reports that coaches will be laid on to take the migrants into the resort which attracts over half a million visitors each year.
The owners of Portland Port have tried to reassure residents about the impending arrival of the barge.
Bill Reeves, the port’s chief executive, said: ‘We wish to reassure local people that a great deal of effort and coordination is being carried out in relation to issues such as security, policing, health provision and other matters.’
The three-storey high vessel has 222 bedrooms and has a gym, TV and games room.
The cost of using the Swedish vessel is understood to be £20,000 a day.
The Home Office have said all the migrants, who are awaiting a decision on their bid for permanent asylum, will be fingerprinted and photographed and the barge will be used for 18 months.
They have also said the migrants will be allowed to leave the vessel – but must return by an 11pm curfew.
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