30 September 2020 14:44
A proposal discussed in the Home Office that asylum seekers could be processed on Ascension Island has come as a shock to inhabitants on the volcanic territory 4,000 miles from the UK. The idea considered within Priti Patel's department that asylum seekers could be transferred to the British overseas territory in the South Atlantic has been derided as "inhumane" by critics at home. "Looking at cost and logistics, we are some 4,000-plus miles away from the UK, I would have thought it would be extremely expensive and a bit of a logistical nightmare to get asylum seekers here to Ascension because of the fact we are very isolated and I don't think the whole thing would be very feasible, to be quite truthful," Mr Nicholls told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. The Financial Times reported that the Home Secretary had ordered officials to explore plans to build an asylum processing centre on the island. But a Home Office source attempted to play it down, saying Ms Patel had asked staff to explore how other nations process claims, with Australia keeping asylum seekers in detention facilities on overseas islands.
The source said the Foreign Office was consulted, with Ascension and St Helena, which is in the same island group, being proposed before being dismissed as too far away. "We are developing plans to reform our illegal migration and asylum policies so we can keep providing protection to those who need it while preventing abuse of the system and criminality which, as we have seen with the rise in gang-facilitated Channel crossings, is a problem," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said. Ms Patel has vowed to stop migrants making the perilous journey across the English Channel in small boats amid record numbers of crossings. The proposal further reflects the influence of Australia – which has controversially used offshore processing and detention centres for asylum seekers since the 1980s – on the UK's immigration and asylum policy. To enable Verizon Media and our partners to process your personal data select 'I agree', or select 'Manage settings' for more information and to manage your choices.
She is also said to have ordered officials to consider the construction of an asylum centre on St Helena, another island in the group between the continents of South America, to the west, and Africa, to the east. The Foreign Office was also approached over the proposals, according to the paper, and is reported to have assessed the practicalities of shipping migrants to such remote locations. A Home Office official said: "The UK has a long and proud history of offering refuge to those who need protection. "As ministers have said we are developing plans to reform policies and laws around illegal migration and asylum to ensure we are able to provide protection to those who need it, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it." Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive. The proposal seems to further reflect the influence of Australia - which has used offshore processing and detention centres for asylum seekers since the 1980s - on the UK's immigration and asylum policy.
Patel is expected to address the issue of Channel crossings by migrants in a speech to the Conservative party conference on Sunday, and has repeatedly vowed to stop those arriving in the country by boat. The UK is dealing with record levels of arrivals across the Channel, and – according to PA Media analysis – nearly 7,000 people have landed in the UK by small boats this year. New plans drawn up by the Home Office show that people could be housed in a detention centre criticised for inhumane conditions, and Conservative MPs in Kent have raised concerns about the housing of migrants in nearby hotels and army barracks. Ascension Island, which has a population of less than 1,000, is home to a Royal Air Force station and was used extensively as a staging point by the British military during the Falklands conflict in 1982. A Home Office source said: "The UK has a long and proud history of offering refuge to those who need protection. "As ministers have said, we are developing plans to reform policies and laws around illegal migration and asylum to ensure we are able to provide protection to those who need it, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it." Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said: "This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive.