Edinburgh councillors raise concerns about Home Office plans to house asylum seekers on "floating prison" at Leith Docks

Ship docked at Leith is currently used to house Ukrainian refugees
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The leader of the City of Edinburgh Council is demanding that a ship at Leith Docks will not become a “floating prison for asylum seekers”, after the council was contacted by the Home Office about plans to use the ship to house people seeking asylum in the UK.

Edinburgh councillors will write to the UK Government to make their concerns known about plans to house asylum seekers at Leith Docks in the MS Victoria, currently housing Ukrainians fleeing war in their country. The ship has housed more than 1,000 Ukrainian refugees since June last year. Its contract is set to end on July 11, with all on board expected to be moved into settled accommodation by then.

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However, the Home Office is planning to use the ship to help deal with the backlog of asylum claims due to the “significant increase in illegal, unnecessary and dangerous Channel crossings” by asylum seekers.

The MS Victoria  took in its first Ukrainian residents last summer. Photo by Lisa Ferguson.The MS Victoria  took in its first Ukrainian residents last summer. Photo by Lisa Ferguson.
The MS Victoria took in its first Ukrainian residents last summer. Photo by Lisa Ferguson.

The City of Edinburgh Council agreed yesterday to write to the UK Government about their decision to utilise the floating accommodation to accommodate people in the city.

Council Leader Councillor Cammy Day said: “Over the last year and a half, we’ve shown solidarity with, and support for, thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have fled Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine.

“As Ukrainian refugees continue to disembark MS Victoria following the Scottish Government’s decision to end its use next month, we were extremely surprised to be contacted by the Home Office about their intentions to commission the ship to house asylum seekers. All the more surprising given their previous advice that it would be impossible for it to remain.

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“We were not consulted on this and urgently require further details from the UK Government on their plans. I know the Scottish Government and COSLA are in the same position and, having written jointly to the Minister of State for Immigration, Robert Jenrick MP, we’ve yet to receive a satisfactory response to our questions and concerns.

“The potential consequences for the council in terms of the pressures on our services – and the city as a whole – are severe and, barring robust partnership discussions involving NHS, police and other colleagues, we will continue to oppose these plans in the strongest terms.

“Many of these people have risked their lives to make it to Europe and what they need is recognition and rights, not an unknown future without the support they so desperately need. While the MS Victoria has been a place of refuge for many Ukrainian families arriving in Edinburgh, until we have adequate reassurances from the UK Government regarding the welfare and ongoing engagement and support, we cannot allow it to become a floating prison for asylum seekers.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office has a statutory obligation to provide accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute while we consider their claim. The significant increase in illegal, unnecessary and dangerous Channel crossings has put our asylum system under incredible strain and made it necessary to continue to use hotels to accommodate some asylum seekers.

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“We are committed to making every effort to reduce hotel use and continue to engage with local authorities as early as possible whenever sites are used for asylum accommodation.”

The Home Office added that the current asylum system is under extreme pressure and costing the country £3 billion a year and rising, including around £6 million a day on hotel accommodation.