Home Secretary 'considering sending asylum seekers abroad to be processed'

18 March 2021, 05:37 | Updated: 18 March 2021, 14:29

Priti Patel  is expected to publish details of plans overhauling the UK's asylum and immigration system next week
Priti Patel is expected to publish details of plans overhauling the UK's asylum and immigration system next week. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Asylum seekers could be sent to processing centres abroad under the Home Secretary's plans to overhaul the immigration system, according to reports.

The British overseas territory of Gibraltar is a location under consideration by officials, according to The Times, as well as the Isle of Man and other islands off the British coast.

Priti Patel has vowed to stop migrants making the perilous journey across the English Channel and is expected to publish details of plans overhauling the UK's asylum and immigration system next week.

The Times said plans due to be set out by the Home Secretary will include a consultation on changing the law so that migrants seeking asylum can be sent to processing centres in third countries.

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It follows a series of leaks last year suggesting the UK Government was considering a number of offshore policies akin to those used in Australia.

These included sending asylum seekers to Ascension Island, more than 4,000 miles from the UK, to be processed, and turning disused ferries out at sea into processing centres.

The ideas were dismissed by critics at the time as unfeasible, while Labour condemned the suggestion of an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island as "inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive".

The Government believes sending migrants to third countries for processing would be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), according to reports.

The Times said the new legislation will include life sentences for people smugglers and the establishment of migrant reception centres on government land, with many currently being housed in hotels.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, responding to reports said: “The Tories are lurching from one inhumane, ridiculous proposal to another. Last year they were talking about creating waves in the English Channel to wash boats back and buying ferries and oil rigs to process asylum claims.

“These absurd ideas show the Government has lost control and all sense of compassion. Ministers must act to reopen safe routes, as promised, and deliver the promised agreement with France.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity, condemned the proposed policy as "inhumane".

He told the paper: "We know from the Australian model that offshore detention leads to appalling outcomes including high levels of self-harm and mental illness.

"It is an inhumane policy that undermines our nation's proud tradition of providing protection to people fleeing persecution and terror many of whom have gone on to work as doctors and nurses in the NHS.

"As we mark the 70th anniversary of the UN convention on refugees later this year we should be welcoming refugees, treating them with compassion."

Gibraltar has hit back at suggestions the UK could send asylum seekers there for processing
Gibraltar has hit back at suggestions the UK could send asylum seekers there for processing. Picture: PA

Gibraltar has also hit back at suggestions the UK could send asylum seekers there for processing.

The island's government said it had not received any proposal on the issue from the UK and chief minister Fabian Picardo has written to the Home Secretary to say it will not happen.

The Isle of Man said it has not been contacted by the UK Government about any proposals.

In his letter to Ms Patel, Mr Picardo said there were constitutional and legal issues, as well as the "geographic limitations" of the British overseas territory which prevented it being used to process asylum seekers.

The chief minister said that while "we will not ever shirk our responsibility" to help Britain "our geography makes some things difficult, however, and the processing of asylum seekers to the UK in Gibraltar would be one of them".

"Immigration is an area of my responsibility as chief minister under the Gibraltar constitution and I can confirm that this issue has not been raised with me at any level.

"I would have made clear this is not area on which we believe we can assist the UK."

A spokesman for the Isle of Man Government said: "The Isle of Man is self-governing, the UK Government would not be able to open any sort of processing centre on the Island without consent.

"The UK Government has not contacted the Isle of Man Government about any such proposal."

The crown dependency's parliament, the Tynwald is thought to be unlikely to approve any processing centre.