THE first asylum seekers will go on to the Bibby Stockholm barge “in the coming days”, the immigration minister has said after a series of delays amid safety concerns.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said around 50 people will enter the vessel in Portland Port, Dorset, as part of a first tranche this week.

He offered a guarantee that it is a “safe facility” after the firefighters’ union warned it is a “potential deathtrap”, citing concerns including overcrowding and access to fire exits.

After an initial delay while works were carried out in Cornwall, the Bibby barge was met by local opposition when it arrived in Portland on July 18.

Various expected dates have been given and then missed for the first people to be housed on it, but Jenrick said it will be this week.

“We hope that the first migrants will go on to the boat in the coming days, I’m not going to give you an exact date – but very soon,” he told Sky News.

“For security reasons we prefer not to give the dates on which individuals arrive.

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“You won’t have long to wait. This is an important step forwards.

“I can absolutely assure you that this is a safe facility.”

He said increasing the numbers on the barge to the capacity of around 500 is still the plan despite concerns from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) over the vessel initially designed to house about 200.

Labour and the Conservatives are hotly contesting the issue of migration as the Government kicks off a “small boats week” of linked announcements.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and “his activist friends” of “doing their best to sabotage our efforts” to tackle small boats.

“Sir Keir Starmer is secretly delighted at his web of cronies’ schemes to block our plans to stop the boats,” she said in comments carried by multiple Sunday newspapers.

A Tory attack dossier links an immigration lawyer who has celebrated blocking a Rwanda deportation flight to the Labour Party.

Jacqueline McKenzie, head of immigration and asylum law at legal firm Leigh Day, served on Labour’s race equality task force, led by Baroness Doreen Lawrence.

The National: Suella Braverman said it would be a tough summer as migrants continue to make the journey across the Channel in small boatsSuella Braverman said it would be a tough summer as migrants continue to make the journey across the Channel in small boats (Image: Jordan Pettitt)

But McKenzie pointed out she also served on a Windrush scandal advisory panel led by then Conservative home secretary Priti Patel.

“As a solicitor I represent my clients to ensure the law is applied accurately to their cases, the outcome of which is determined by the courts,” the lawyer said.

“I have not been involved in the judicial review challenge to the Rwanda migration and economic development partnership, but two of the most senior judges in the UK has ruled that the plan is unlawful.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to “stop the boats” as one of his five priorities for the nation, but people keep making the perilous crossing of the Channel.

A further 77 people were detected arriving in two boats on Saturday, taking the Home Office’s provisional total for the year so far to 15,071.

Braverman admitted in an interview with the Mail On Sunday: “It’s going to be a tough summer.

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“I look closely at what the incoming flows are like, and we still have too many people coming across the Channel. We still need to honour our pledge to the British people to stop the boats.”

Labour claimed it will take until 2036 to clear the existing backlog for removals of failed asylum seekers, with nearly 40,000 awaiting removal in the latest figures.

The Opposition also accused the Government of “cooking the books” to fulfil the pledge of bringing under control the asylum decision backlog after it hit a record high of more than 172,000 cases.

More than 6,000 asylum seekers were wiped off the decisions backlog for reasons including failing to fill in questionnaires under the new fast track scheme, it emerged.

But Jenrick denied any attempt to massage the figures, and accused Labour of producing “completely fanciful” figures.

Meanwhile, shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock admitted a Labour government would need to house asylum seekers for a “very short-term period” on barges and former military bases while it tackles the backlogs.

The Labour MP told BBC Breakfast the move would be necessary while they fix the “complete and utter chaos and shambles of the Tory asylum crisis”.