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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

UK Government to reintroduce Victorian prison hulks?

In a remarkable feat of synchronicity, the week that the BBC starts to air a new adaptation of Great Expectations, the Tory Government announces that they intend to house asylum seekers on barges and cruise ships, a modern day equivalent of the prison hulk that dominates the opening chapters of Dickens' novel.

As the website Exploring London explains, floating prisons known as ‘hulks’ were a regular site on the Thames in London between the late 18th century and mid-19th century, used to house convicts awaiting transportation to British penal colonies including in what is now Australia.

The ‘hulks’ were actually decommissioned warships, dismasted and repurposed for the purpose of housing prisoners. They add that conditions on board the vessels were indeed appalling and disease spread quickly with mortality rates of 30 per cent not uncommon. Prisoners were kept chained when aboard and floggings handed out as punishment for any offences. Food and clothing were of poor quality.

The Independent says that migrants arriving in the UK via small boats could be housed in ferries and barges as well as disused military bases under government plans to reduce the spending on hotels, with immigration minister Robert Jenrick planning to announce the use of two RAF sites as he tries to reduce the £6.8m a day spends on hotel accommodation for asylum seekers.

They add that the Home Office is looking at housing asylum seekers on giant barges used for offshore construction projects, while other reports indicate ministers are also looking at disused cruise ships, including one from Indonesia that could be moored off the south-west coast.

These drastic and inhuman measures are the result of policy failure by the UK Government. They have failed to provide legal routes to clain asylum, failed to process those who do ask for sanctuary in good time and are failing to work with other countries to manage claims. As a result the asylum system is spiralling out of control with Ministers floundering cluelessly as to how to turn the situation around.
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