Home Secretary Priti Patel has asked officials to look into constructing an asylum processing centre on a remote volcanic island located over 4,000 miles away from the UK.
Priti Patel with the Foreign Office considered transferring asylum seekers to the South Atlantic British overseas territories of Ascension Island and St Helena. Both islands lie between between the coast of Africa and Brazil.
The Financial Times reports that an assessment was made on the practicality of shipping asylum seekers to the islands.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, tweeted: “This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive. So it seems entirely plausible this Tory government came up with it.”
Whitehall officials said the move may have been inspired by Australia’s use of offshore asylum centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which help manage ‘illegal’ migrants.
The process sees the navy intercept people arriving in Australia by boat and take them to the centres until their refugee claims are cleared. The last people to be transferred to the centres was in 2014, the Refugee Council reports.
The organisation also states that refugees can be left in ‘limbo’ at the centres for years, and often experience ‘terrible conditions’ which can have a severe impact on mental health.
A source close to Patel said: ‘We have been looking at how other countries have been dealing with this issue. We have been scoping everything. No decisions have been made by ministers.’
More than 5,000 migrants have arrived in the UK by boat this year – but the number remains far lower than other European countries.
Patel’s team also reportedly looked at creating asylum processing centres in north Africa, to screen migrants before they attempt to travel to the UK. This plan has also been considered by the EU.
The PM has promised to get tough on illegal immigration after thousands more people have crossed the Channel already this year.
By the end of August, more than 5,000 people arrived in the UK by crossing the English Channel in dinghies, which is more than twice the number who arrived through the same route during the whole of 2019.
However, the number of boats arriving in the UK remains smaller than in other European countries, with Italy seeing nearly 17,000 sea arrivals as of August and Spain more than 10,800.
The government continues to take a hardline stance against crossings, and has focused on making the route ‘unviable’ for migrants. Patel is expected to address the situation in her speech at the Conservative Party conference on Sunday.
A Home Office official said: “The UK has a long and proud history of offering refuge to those who need protection. Tens of thousands of people have rebuilt their lives in the UK and we will continue to provide safe and legal routes in the future.
“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.”