Ascension Island: Priti Patel 'explored' sending migrants to remote outpost

29 September 2020, 23:12 | Updated: 30 September 2020, 10:28

Priti Patel asked officials to explore sending asylum seekers for processing on Ascension Island
Priti Patel asked officials to explore sending asylum seekers for processing on Ascension Island. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Priti Patel asked officials to explore the possibility of sending migrants more than 4,000 miles away to Ascension Island in the south Atlantic for asylum processing, it has been reported.

The home secretary allegedly ordered Home Office staff to consider the viability of transferring asylum seekers who arrive in the UK to a centre on the British overseas territory, according to the Financial Times.

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.

St Helena was the island where the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to following his defeat to the British and Prussia at the Battle of Waterloo.

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.

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Ultimately, Ms Patel did not decide to follow through with the consideration, however the Home Office has not denied that the proposal was examined.

Labour condemned the scheme as "inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive".

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."

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Ascension Island, which is used as a staging post to supply and defend the Falkland Islands, has an RAF base and a population of fewer than 1,000 people.

Moving asylum seekers there and keeping them supplied was said to represent a considerable logistical challenge.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive. So it seems entirely plausible this Tory Government came up with it."

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.

Britain's government has based its post-Brexit points-based immigration system on that developed in Australia.

Ms Patel recently met with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, known for his tough stance on immigration, who was appointed by Boris Johnson as a trade adviser to the UK.