Bibby Stockholm: Others may harm themselves, says dead man’s roommate

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Yusuf Deen Kargbo competed for Sierra Leone in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and then claimed asylum
By Dan Johnson and Alex Littlewood
BBC News

The roommate of an Albanian asylum seeker who is believed to have taken his own life on the Bibby Stockholm says others may harm themselves if conditions on the barge do not improve.

Yusuf Deen Kargbo was sharing a room with Leonard Farruku when he was found unresponsive, early on 12 December.

Mr Kargbo told BBC News he felt the barge was unsafe and he knows of others on board who were struggling to cope.

The Home Office said Mr Farruku’s death was a tragic incident.

In a statement, it said his death was being investigated by the police and coroner, and that there were “rigorous safeguarding processes in place” on the barge.

Mr Kargbo, who came to the UK from Sierra Leone, told BBC News that people on the barge – which houses migrants off the Dorset coast – “don’t have any hope for their lives”.

“They’re saying this (Leonard’s death) is just the beginning… They are trying to give a warning, that place is not good for them. Every day their stress is increasing, getting worse.”

Last month, at the opening of his inquest, Dorset’s coroner heard Mr Farruku’s cause of death was neck compression as a result of hanging. His funeral is due to be held in Albania on Wednesday.

Speaking to BBC News, Mr Kargbo said he shared a room with Mr Farruku, 27, for around ten days before his death. “Sometimes he would be sitting alone. He was a very quiet person. He liked to be by himself, sitting alone playing with his phone.”

He said Mr Farruku didn’t seem unhappy. “I heard him laughing on his phone, sometimes until one or two o’clock at night, I thought he was maybe watching a comedy video on his phone, having a fun time.”

Mr Kargbo said on 11 December Mr Farruku left the cabin after breakfast and returned at around 18:00. “He just said to me ‘hello’ and went directly to the bathroom.”

Mr Kargbo said he then left to have dinner and to pray. When he returned to the room, the bathroom was locked. “When I knocked, I thought there was no-one in the bathroom. I knock, no answer. Knock, knock, no answer. I said ‘hello’ but I had no answer.”

Leonard Farruku was found unresponsive on the Bibby Stockholm early on 12 December

It wasn’t until the next morning, when Mr Kargbo found the bathroom was still locked and Mr Farruku’s bed had not been slept in, that he tried to raise the alarm.

He said he felt staff didn’t initially take him seriously. But when they did force open the bathroom door, they found Mr Farruku unconscious. He said they tried to resuscitate him and an ambulance was called. However, the coroner heard Mr Farruku was declared dead at the scene.

The hearing was told there were no suspicious circumstances and no evidence anybody else was involved. The inquest was adjourned until July to gather evidence from the Home Office and other organisations.

The Bibby Stockholm barge is intended to be a cheaper alternative to hotel accommodation for those awaiting their asylum claims. It was proposed as part of the government’s efforts to reduce the numbers of people crossing the English Channel on small boats. Its capacity was doubled to 500 by introducing bunk beds to create shared cabins.

The first asylum seekers went aboard in August 2023 but they had to be relocated after less than one week when legionella bacteria was discovered in the water system. The barge became fully operational in October.

Opponents of the plan have previously warned about the potential impact of living aboard the barge, likening it to a prison. Although it is moored in a secure port off the south coast of England – and checks and searches are carried out – the men are not detained and are free to leave the vessel.

Mr Kargbo was moved to a hotel five days after Mr Farruku’s death but he remains part of a messaging group with others on the Bibby Stockholm. He said he still receives complaints from those on board about poor quality food, cold showers, unreliable Wi-Fi, and their concerns not being dealt with.

One message he shared with BBC News referred to “the stress and anxiety in this barge”. The unnamed asylum seeker signed off: “This barge feels like a prison.”

In a statement, the Home Office said it takes the welfare of those in our care “very seriously” and it has “rigorous safeguarding processes in place”. “Any concerns raised about the service delivered on the barge are swiftly addressed through our work with the provider, and Migrant Help 24/7 is also available every day of the year.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story you can visit BBC Action Line.

Asylum Barge

BBC News investigates the community reaction to the arrival of the Bibby Stockholm barge in the town of Portland, Dorset.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK only)

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