A QUEEN’S University Belfast academic has called on the institution to pull out of its contract with a company which operates barges to house asylum seekers in the UK.
Australian company Corporate Travel Management (CTM) was recently awarded a contract as the university’s new travel provider - a decision which Professor John Barry branded as “disrespectful” to staff, particularly those leading migration research.
Earlier this year, CTM was also awarded a reported £1.6bn contract to manage UK asylum accommodation ships, including the Bibby Stockholm which began operating off the coast of Dorset earlier this month.
The use of barges to house asylum seekers has been strongly criticised by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, who have branded them as “an utterly shameful way to house people who’ve fled terror, conflict and persecution”.
CTM took over as Queen’s University’s travel provider on July 1.
Staff are encouraged to book flights, trains and other travel through CTM.
The university spends more than £7 million a year on travel.
Several Queen’s staff who spoke to The Detail anonymously said they were unaware of CTM’s links to asylum barges and expressed concern that the company had been awarded the university's travel contract.
Asylum seekers were initially housed on the Bibby Stockholm barge off Portland, Dorset, earlier this month.
But all 39 on board were later evacuated after potentially deadly legionella bacteria was detected.
Professor Barry, told The Detail of his “disgust and shock” at the decision to award CTM the university’s travel contract.
“It really just leaves a bad taste in the mouth but particularly amongst us who are working on asylum and migration issues,” he said.
He said by awarding CTM the travel contract Queen’s was “being disrespectful” of the research academics were carrying out into migration.
Professor Barry said the university should do all it can to halt its contract with CTM and find another travel provider.
“By continuing with the contract, Queen’s is essentially saying we are supporting an inhumane asylum regime,” he said.
Queen’s procurement guidance states that the university is committed “to carrying out procurement activities in an environmentally, socially, ethically and economically responsible manner and to enter into agreements and contracts with suppliers that share and adhere to its vision”.
A spokeswoman for Queen’s said it would raise the issue with CTM at an upcoming meeting.
“Queen's University has received no complaints to date regarding the contract with CTM,” she said.
“The university operates a robust procurement process to appoint suppliers to provide goods and services to meet business needs.
“Following a recent tender process, CTM were appointed on 1 July 2023 for a period of 24 months to provide travel management services to the university.
“We are meeting with representatives from CTM in the coming weeks and will raise this issue with them.
“The university's annual travel spend is in the order of £7m which is approximately 1.75% of the university's income.
“Queen’s is an international university and, as with other institutions across the sector, it is necessary for staff to regularly travel overseas to forge international links, promote their universities, and explore opportunities for collaboration.
“The university's international travel brings significant income and benefits and has a positive societal impact on Northern Ireland.”
CTM had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication.
The UK government has been strongly criticised for using barges and former military bases to house asylum seekers as part of its efforts to cut spending after the cost of hotel accommodation rose to £1.9bn last year.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, previously hit out at the decision to house asylum seekers in barges.
“Reminiscent of the prison hulks from the Victorian era, the Bibby Stockholm is an utterly shameful way to house people who’ve fled terror, conflict and persecution,” he said.
“Housing people on a floating barge is likely to be re-traumatising and there should be major concerns about confining each person to living quarters the typical size of a car parking space.”
The government has repeatedly said it wants to slash the number of people migrating to the UK.
The most recent figures show that net migration to the UK reached 606,000 last year - the highest on record.
In October 2022, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said her "ultimate aspiration" was to reduce net migration to the "tens of thousands".