ASYLUM seekers have returned to the Bibby Stockholm “prison barge” despite the efforts of protesters and legal challengers.

Of the 39 people removed from the barge after the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply, 29 would be returning, The Telegraph reported.

They were met with protesters, some of whom attempted to block the road while others produced “welcome bags” filled with essentials for those who would live on the barge.

The driver of a bus taking asylum seekers to the Bibby Stockholm appeared to drive towards protesters standing directly in front of the vehicle, in a video circulated by protesters. 

The group said: "We are saddened to report that we were unable to halt transportation of refugees to the prison — the driver rammed through the block, risking killing those in front."

Dorset Police said two men were arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage and another was arrested on suspicion of damaging a police car.  

The force also confirmed protesters had blocked the road but did not comment on whether the bus approached the demonstrators. 

It is not currently known which company was contracted to drive asylum seekers there.

The outsourcing firm Mitie is contracted by the Home Office to provide "in-country escort" services but told The National they were not involved in transporting people to the Bibby Stockholm. 

A Home Office spokeswoman earlier on Thursday said that tests for the bacteria, as well as improved fire safety protocols, had been completed ahead of the return of the occupants to the barge.

The vessel, docked at the Isle of Portland, off the coast of Dorset, was previously described by the Fire Brigades Union as a “potential deathtrap”.

Of the asylum seekers not returning to the Bibby Stockholm on Thursday, one had returned to their home country and others had mental health issues exempting them from staying on the barge.

About 30 protesters gathered at the port gates holding banners saying “Scrap the prison barge! Refugees welcome”.

'It feels like a prison'

Annika, of Portland Global Friendship Group, had helped produce “welcome bags” for the arrivals which included shampoo, toothpaste, notebooks and a map of the local area.

She said: “We just want to welcome the refugees and make a gesture to show there are people here who care.

“I think the barge is a horrible idea, it feels very oppressive, it feels like a prison here with the amount of security that they have to go through.”

Candy Udwin, of Stand Up To Racism Dorset, said she had been in contact with some of those who had been staying on the Bibby Stockholm.

The National: Bibby Stockholm (Bibby Marine/PA)

She said: “They hate it, they say it feels like a prison, some hate being on the sea, they find it very difficult to leave and they are completely separated from the community.”

Local councillor Carralyn Parkes, who is the mayor of Portland, and recently lost a High Court fight against Home Secretary Suella Braverman over the lawfulness of housing asylum seekers on the barge also attended the protest.

She said that she was continuing subsequent legal action against Dorset Council as the planning authority responsible for the port.

READ MORE: Mayor begins High Court fight with Home Secretary over Bibby Stockholm barge

She said: “The Bibby Stockholm is not the way humane society treats vulnerable human beings.”

Fire safety measures

The Home Office said it had been working with Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service to address safety concerns, including the creation of a fourth gangway.

All staff members involved in fire evacuation had received accredited fire warden training and would undergo regular drills, a spokeswoman said.

She added that those being brought to the Bibby Stockholm would be given five days’ notice, with each individual being assessed against a suitability criteria and screened against police and immigration databases.

They would also have their fingerprints and identities recorded.

She added that a full system cleanse of the water system had been carried out and tests had given the all-clear for the Legionella bacteria.

The spokeswoman said: “The Government is committed to ending the use of expensive hotels for asylum seekers.

“Moving asylum seekers into alternative accommodation sites, like the Bibby Stockholm, is more affordable for taxpayers and more manageable for communities, with on-site healthcare and catering facilities.”

Steve Smith, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais, said it was assisting asylum seekers with legal challenges against the accommodation.

He said: “That includes supporting the survivors of torture and modern slavery to legally challenge their accommodation on these sites, which is contrary to the Government’s own suitability criteria.

“Already, we are seeing some of these transfers being delayed or cancelled altogether because of these challenges.”

Caroline O’Connor, chief executive of Migrant Help, said: “It’s important that people on the barge are able to maintain their independence and are able to come and go, to enter towns, to experience the local culture, to learn about life here.

“It doesn’t help a traumatised person to be isolated from the culture that they’re trying to join.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The disruption caused in Portland by a small group of people is totally unacceptable. 

“Moving asylum seekers into alternative accommodation sites, such like the Bibby Stockholm, is more affordable for taxpayers and more manageable for communities.

“We are liaising closely with the police as they continue their investigations and to ensure appropriate security arrangements are in place.”